Tuesday, August 21, 2012


by C. Michelle Jefferies

I'm taking all sorts of risks right now.

Today is the first day of the school year. My kids dressed in new clothes and haircuts are now at school and ready to be molded and learn all sorts of new stuff.

Today is also a new begining for me. I only have one child at home and should be exctatic at the prospect of having so much time to write and work on my books.


This baby is not one of those entertain themselves all day long kids like my others. This one needs constant supervision. Remember me saying I'm taking a risk? Yeah, he's unloading the hall closet as I write this. It's going to be an interesting year.

Speaking of beginings. I  have a few friends who stress over thier first pages worrying whether they are good or not. They worry about the level of action the plot promises that should be delivered in it. They worry about pacing, and introdoucing the characters without info dumping. While some of my other friends breeze through the first pages only to worry about something else. My main worry is just that I've gotten some element of grammar wrong and I don't see it.  I rarely worry about first pages. I have too many other things to stress over.

I've written many first chapters and entered many first chapter contests. From my many years I have come to a few conclusions.

You must introdouce your main character. No "first chapter about anybody but the MC".
If the MC has a signifigant other, they must be thought about or mentioned. If this is a multiple POV book the other characters should be given at least a mention.

You need to give the reader a sense of the setting and whether its normal or if it is unusual for them.

Tell the reader what is the MC's normal life so when we take them out of normal the reader notices the change.

You should give the reader a hint about what the main conflict of the book is. By all means, don't tell them the climax or the resolution, but give them an idea of what is coming. It makes for a more satisfying story in my opinion.

The first chapter must be consistent in style and voice to the rest of the book. The pacing should indicate the pacing of the rest of the book. No switching narrative, person, voice or style.

Arrive late into the scene and leave early.

So what do you worry about? What do you believe is required in first chapters? I'd love to hear your ideas.

~The path to wisdom is not allways straight.


Angie said...

That's good advice, Michelle. You summed it up well. Good luck with that little two year old!

Gina said...

I think this is generally good advice, but there's also the fact that you need to know what works for YOUR story.

For example, the first chapter of Harry Potter breaks pretty much all of these rules.

You should follow the rules, until you shouldn't :)

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

Angie, thanks, I don't think I'll get much wiritng done this year unless its when the baby sleeps.

To be honest the first HP chapter follows almost all of the suggestions I have made. The plot promise of the whole series is right there including the title of the chapter. IE the discussion of Voldemort, Harry and the connection, and "The Boy Who Lived". The normal world is introdouced, as is the fantastical world. Magic and typical English neighborhood. Dumbeldore and McGonagal are introdouced as Harry's friends and allies. I can see that while the first chapter is omnicent and the rest of the books are first person it has to be that way because you can't have the chapter be from an infants POV. The style is a little slow but it's consistent with the authors way of starting any of her seven H. P. books.

Yes rules are made to be broken once you know what they are and why you are breaking them. Books that are not only good but sell well have some sort of code that is followed because readers expect certain things in thier reading. While the odd and unusual reader, especially us authors, will probably apreciate a book that is drastically diferent in regards to the rules, the general public usually doesn't like them.

Yes you need to know what is right for your story. Usually instead of it being drastically diferent than what's normal, it is the distinct interpertation of the same rules that everyone uses,that makes a good read.