Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'm back with my humble opinion on the first chapter.

Excuse my absence! It's been 11 months since I last posted! The past year I've had to deal with personal issues that consumed me both mentally and emotionally. Let's face it, I've never been a champ at posting anyway, but I will definitely do better now that life is amazing again.
On to the good stuff!
After a lot of thought, frustration, and a ton of suggestions (Thanks, SHAUN EVANS and WANITA MAY!!), I finally decided on a series name for Keeper, Uprising, and Torrent: HIDDEN BLOODLINES. I'm actually really excited about it! It captures the essence of the book in so many ways--just like I wanted it to. :)
I did manage to edit the first book in Hidden Bloodlines twice with my agent, in all the drama of life, the past year. Now, Keeper is currently in the hands of an editor at TOR Books! It's a great publishing company and I'm crossing my fingers for them! Although, my hopes aren't too high. It's the first publisher we have queried. They have an exclusive one month to see if it's the right book for them!
In the small amount of time I've had to write, I've worked on my new YA novel TURBULENCE. It's a paranormal. Don’t worry, no Vamps or Werewolves. I think it's a pretty unique story, and I'm super excited to jump in to it! It may have to take a back seat for a while as I'm feeling it's time to dive back into UPRISING, book 2 in Hidden Bloodlines.
Currently, I'm 15,000 words into Uprising! YAY! Only about 70,000 more to go... Yeah... when I say it like that, 15,000 feels like nothing!

So here is a question for everyone: What do you feel is most important in starting off your novel? Let’s say chapter 1. If anyone wants my opinion, here are some things I always keep in mind:
1. First sentence must hook. Not only should it grab readers, it MUST compel agents, editors, and pretty much everyone in the writing industry. No pressure. haha
If you don’t have a good first sentence, it’s like your whole chapter sucks. I’ve re-written the first chapter of Turbulence 4 times. After the third time, I was so frustrated I finally cleared my mind and stepped away from the computer. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to happen in the chapter and what perfect sentence would lead me there, I simply asked myself “what is a good line that would show my MC’s character?” I jotted down some, and even made myself laugh at a few crazy ones. I went about my household chores, still pondering, and then it clicked. I sprinted for my computer and spent the next few hours writing. That one little line changed my entire chapter. I think this is one of the many forms of allowing your character to speak. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to happen, it’s not really in line with our character. Shut your brain off and let them speak to you. They have great ideas. Haha
I’m sure everyone has a different tactic or a different opinion on how to come up with the first sentence, but this is my formula: A. Raise questions in the reader. B. SHOW the MC’s state of mind. C. Personality. If your character is depressed, let it show. If he/she is witty, let it ring through their tone and how they are delivering this first sentence.
Seems like a lot to put in one sentence, huh? It’s doable. You’ll be amazed at what one little sentence can do for your chapter.
2. The second thing I advise in the first chapter is: KEEP IT MOVING. Everything you write should move the story forward and have something to do with the plot. Don’t go on about scenery, family, descriptions, and everything that’s ever happened to the MC. Remember, there are chapters 2 and 3, too! Sneak in all the information that is necessary to get us from one point to another.
3. Put your character in a compelling situation. Grab your reader and don’t let them escape!! If you start your chapter with the MC eating cereal at the table, telling you about how a member of their family died, readers may put the book down. Now, if you start the chapter with your MC sitting at the table, eating cereal and a gunman busts in the house and shoots a member of his/her family, that is something entirely different.  Keep in mind this compelling situation should most definitely have something (if not everything) to do with the plot. Crazy random stuff that has nothing to do with the plot, won’t get you anywhere (Yes, I’ve seen a lot of this when I first started looking for a critique group to join, so I had to mention it haha.)
4. Pace. Don’t start off the chapter with poor little Billy getting gunned down and then go into his life story. Keep up the pace you created. This section goes hand in hand with number 2. If you start chapter one fast paced, strong, and dramatic, let it hold clear to the end. Keep your readers knuckles white! Now, I realize not every book can start out so with gunmen and death. Mine certainly don’t. This is just an example. Hopefully everyone can get the gist of it.
5. DON’T introduce too many characters. I like to introduce 2-3. It seems like if you do much more than that, readers start to get confused!
6. End the chapter with a hook. This is JUST as important as starting the chapter with a hook. Make the readers/editors/agents stay up late turning pages because they have to know what’s happening! Again, the best way to do this, in my opinion, is raise questions.
7. Last, but certainly not least: Spell check. Grammar check. And, please, oh please, GET A SECOND AND THIRD PERSON’S OPINION. I’ve already ranted about critique partners in the last post I did, so everyone knows how important I feel they are. 

A lot of pressure is on the first chapter. I think it’s normal to have to write it more than once (and I think most authors would agree). Buying books on writing (I would recommend Elements of Fiction writing) can really help you set up a good first chapter too. I learned a lot from those books, but even more from my fellow author friends! Research and find what works best for you. 

Anyone else have anything to add?


  1. These are all great points, Tiffany! The first chapter is so critical!! Glad to be following your blog!

  2. These are all great points! Love them all! I can't wait to read your new book! You're right about keeping it moving! In my first chapter, I have a helicopter crash. Make it gripping, hook readers, and never let them go. One of the first best chapters I've ever read is yours in the book called "Keeper". Now that's a rockin' first chapter!!!!!!! Glad to see you back!

  3. I left you an award on my blog, Tiffany. If you get a chance, stop by!