Tips on Writing the First Chapter and Beyond

These are some more tips from romantic travel writer Janice MacDonald’s on First Chapters.

  • Don’t sweat it initially, it will change.
  • When you’re ready to return to it, consider the following:
    • start as close to the end without leaving out important information
    • open with action
    • quickly establish: who, what, where, when and why

These are some additional tips on writing first — and the rest of the chapters, Janice MacDonald received from one of her editors:

  • Write your opening so it’s a grabber: in the middle of some dramatic moment such as an argument, the discovery of a dead body, and so forth.
  • Think about starting your novel with a question. It should be a question that will interest the reader enough that he or she will keep reading to find out the answer.
  • Make your book look reader-friendly by breaking up long paragraphs into shorter ones and varying the length of paragraphs and dialog. Create white-space on the page.
  • Let your characters and plotline shine by limiting description and exposition to telling details that provide just enough information.
  • Once you hook your reader, work hard to maintain interest by controlling pacing. Pacing starts with the very first word of your book and it doesn’t end until the last word.
  • Variety is the spice of life [editor’s note: Not my cliché]. Non-stop action becomes as numbing as action-free talking-heads. A book that’s all dialogue or all introspection, sex or anything else risks turning off the reader who’s there for story. Mix it up.
    • Follow a dramatic scene with a calmer one, a breather for both the characters and the reader.
    • Alternate dialogue that moves the plot forward with point-of-view passages that deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters and theme.
    • Chapter endings are a key element of pacing. Try to leave some tension by not wrapping up everything for the character or the plot complication. You want your chapter endings to urge the reader on the the next chapter. [Editor’s note: As they say in show business, always leave them wanting more.]

Some of this may seem repetitive, but I’ve found through the years that sometimes hearing the same information in a different way makes it all suddenly make sense.

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