Contest season is coming around the bend, and whether you're planning to submit to Pitch Wars, Pitch Slam, Nightmare on Query Street, or another contest, there are some common requirements for every submission package. Over the next few weeks, Operation Awesome will be giving and rehashing tips, advice, and 'lessons learned' about each of these required pieces of the submission package.
Take a look at last week's post on QUERY LETTERS. Now, let's turn our attention to THE FIRST CHAPTER.
Top First Chapter Tips from the Operation Awesome Crew
KARA: I know I've talked about this before, but it bears repeating: If the inciting incident doesn't happen in your first chapter, then your book is starting in the wrong place. The inciting incident is the thing that happens, without which, there would be no book. It's the thing that changes the status quo for your main character and sets them on the course of events that form your novel. Give your first chapter to your CPs and ask them if they can identify what the inciting incident is. If they can't, you've got work to do.
MELINDA: Drop me into a scene. I get too many submissions where the first chapter is all inside protagonist's head, telling the reader how they met their best friend, about their relationship with their parents, about why their preferred type of cheese is Gouda. Something needs to happen in your first chapter and that something needs to be important to the overall story.
J: I should have a question in my mind driving me to read onward. Also, I should be able to figure out what genre your book is by now. (Something dramatic happened, something paranormal appeared, my heart jolted from a scary scene, I laughed, I lusted, there was a crime, I encountered something from days gone by, etc.) Finally, I shouldn't have too many characters to juggle in my mind yet. One to four is ideal. Five to seven is gray area. Over seven characters in Chapter One is a red flag.
LEANDRA: For me, I like to see something unusual in the first chapter. If it's the character getting out of bed, thinking about their day, eating breakfast--for me, nothing will have me closing a book faster. Give me something besides the norm.
JAIME: To me, the most important factors in deciding whether to read a book are the concept and the voice. Now, if I'm thinking about buying a book, I already know the concept (from the back cover, Amazon description, etc.). So the first chapter's job is to hook me with the main character's voice. I will follow a great main character almost anywhere, but I won't necessarily keep up with a great concept if I don't care about the main character. In other words, your first chapter needs to establish your main character's voice, first and foremost.
Operation Awesome's Library of Posts About The First Chapter
Weaving a Colorful Tapestry of Page-Turning Story
What First Impression is Your Character Giving?
Activate Your Story