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First Chapters: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

Writing.ie | Resources | Essential Guides | Links for Writers
Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

The first chapter of your novel has to be amazing. It is what hooks your reader and entices them to read on. It can be the way to snag yourself an agent and a publisher. Every word counts. This is your chance to convince the reader that they want to read more of your story. People need to be pulled in immediately. It has to be unputdownable!

‘The first chapter must open with a bang, hit the ground running, take no prisoners, grab ‘em by the throat, leave ‘em begging for mercy yet praying for more.’ Elizabeth Guy

I have put together some links to useful articles and podcasts that give you things to consider when writing those first chapters.

  1. https://www.writersdigest.com/improve-my-writing/8-ways-to-write-a-5-star-chapter-one

This article from Writers Digest compares the first chapter to an appetiser of a great meal. A small part of the meal yet important as it sets the standard for the rest of the meal. Your opening chapter needs to hook the reader into reading more. Your story must flow from the first word, you should choose a natural starting point and present a strong character straight away.

  1. https://thewritepractice.com/how-to-write-a-good-first-chapter/

Here seven steps to write a good first chapter are given, including establishing the value scale that your novel will move on e.g. life v’s death, love v’s hate, maturity v’s naivete. Setting the genre from the beginning, and setting the scene through physical movement are also steps to consider.

  1. https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/7-key-elements-include-first-chapter/

Although there isn’t a formula for a perfect first chapter, there are certain elements that great first chapters share. Writer’s Edit recommends seven elements that should serve as your guidelines. Among them are using a strong voice, the conflict should be apparent from the start, and the first paragraph is key, you should stick to a solid, simple first paragraph.

  1. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-the-first-chapter-of-your-novel#5-things-to-include-in-the-first-chapter-of-your-novel

In this article, Masterclass advises that you establish the tone, determine your point of view, and make sure that your protagonist has a clear goal right from the start. Among the five things to include in your first chapter is having a gripping first paragraph, and an introduction to both the main character and the antagonist.

  1. https://www.well-storied.com/blog/three-lessons-learned-first-three-chapters-critique

Three important lessons about your first few chapters are discussed here: It’s okay to take your time; Don’t skimp on internal dialogue; and, find ways to establish key exposition.


  1. https://www.savannahgilbo.com/blog/opening-pages

You can read or listen to Fiction Made Easy’s advice on opening pages. Savannah gives the writer five common mistakes to avoid, including not giving enough big-picture context to the reader; introducing the protagonist too late in the story, and using too much backstory.

  1. https://writingexcuses.com/2021/07/11/16-28-common-first-page-mistakes/

Discussed on this podcast are the ways in which a first page can go wrong.

  1. https://www.herdedwords.com/how-to-write-first-chapter/

Your first chapter should contain five elements. These include conflict, mystery over action, and using limited backstory. Analysing the first chapters of a few bestselling novels, The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly, The Target by David Baldacci, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, they identify how these 5 elements have worked well. Exercises to try are also given.

When you put your first chapter out there in the world, you must make sure that it is the very best it can be. If you do it well then not only will you hook your reader for that novel but they’ll be interested in the next one too! I hope this week’s column has been helpful to you. Please get in touch if you have any topic you would like me to cover.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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