Writing Challenge #10: Keep an Eye on Your First Chapter

Many writers are in the midst of speeding through a 50,000-word novel for NaNoWriMo.

This challenge isn’t for you–at least not this month! It’s for those of us working on manuscripts at a less aggressive pace. In fact, it’s all about slowing down and really looking at your novel–once you’re at least a few chapters into writing it.

The challenge is this. First, read your first chapter with a critical eye. Is it doing its job in setting up the story, setting and characters?

As you continue to write, and/or revise, throughout the next month, keep returning to that beginning. How do the choices you’ve made later in the manuscript relate to your first chapter? Is the opening still doing its job? What can you tweak now that you know more about your characters and your story arc? What can you add or subtract?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Fiction, Revision, Writing, Writing Challenge and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Writing Challenge #10: Keep an Eye on Your First Chapter

  1. Emma Burcart says:

    Great idea! I keep reading about how important the first chapter is, and even the first page. How many sentences do we really have to sell the agent, publisher, and reader. If we keep coming back to that first chapter, we should be on the right track. Thanks for the reminder!

    • You make a great connection between the first chapter and the rest of the publishing process–having the book judged by industry professionals and/or readers. Thanks, as always, for chiming in!

  2. Laura, after doing the first, second and third drafts, I often discard the original opening and begin the book on page 10. Until I am three quarters into the book, I begin each writing day by reading from page one. It serves two purposes; I can find blaring errors, delete or add where needed and it keeps the work tighter. Flying by the seat of our pants might get an initial idea out and over with, but it is the careful work of rewriting that eventually shows us how well the beginning has served the plot. Thanks 🙂

    • It’s wonderful that you center your writing sessions by rereading the opening, Florence. It makes so much sense, and once you figure out where the book really starts, that exercise must keep you engaged and focused on the trajectory of your story.

      And I adore this line: “Flying by the seat of our pants might get an initial idea out and over with, but it is the careful work of rewriting that eventually shows us how well the beginning has served the plot.”

  3. By an odd coincidenc, this is exactly where I am in the process. I just did a full read-through of the book I’m working on, and just this morning I made some edits to the first story (with many more to go). But, since my book is really a novel disguised as a book of short stories, the first story is the first chapter, so I’m evaluating how it introduces the scene, the style, the characters, etc.

    t is the only story that’s out of sequence (chronologically it’s the fourth), so I’m always considering putting it in the #4 slot, but it’s a better intro than the real first one. And I double-check, from time to time, that that’s still true.

    • What an interesting choice, Anthony. It sounds like you’re on the right evaluation path, weighing chronology versus the weight and impact of story #1. Like Emma said, it’s so important to have a compelling beginning in terms of hooking readers.

  4. Liz says:

    such important advice….if a novel does not capture me in the first page or so, well, it might be history. there’s just too much to read.


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