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Tips on Writing Your First Chapter by Elizabeth Macneal

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Elizabeth Macneal

Elizabeth Macneal

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I am an author and potter based in East London. My novel The Doll Factory is out now, about a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world forever. It is a story of painting, collecting, love, obsession and possession. It is a Sunday Times bestseller, a Radio 2 Book Club pick, and a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. It has also been optioned for a TV series. To hear more about how I came to write the book, I was interviewed in the Sunday Times.

I have been chosen to judge the Pitch Your Novel on Twitter Competition where you can win a a week-long writing retreat in one of three holiday cottages feedback – more details below and here.

First, I’d like to share my five tips on writing that all-important first chapter:

  1. This feels like obvious advice, but I’ve often begun stories too early (which results in a lot of unimportant background information before anything happens) or too late (which results in too much backstory, pulling the reader out of the action). Think about your inciting incident, your mystery, your problem that needs to be solved, and when is the best time to introduce it.
  2. I like to have my characters do something straight away; any details about their personal relationships or history or appearance can be introduced more subtly. I see my first chapter as a short story without a complete resolution. I want something satisfying and complete to have happened but I also want to have left questions unanswered. That said, the actual events narrated don’t need to be drastic.
  3. I’m sure there are plenty of examples where a brilliant book doesn’t introduce the protagonist within the first chapter but I like to begin my stories and novels with the focus on the protagonist. Anchor us in their lives; make us care about them, understand them, and want to spend a whole novel in their company. What do they see or notice, and what does this show us about them?
  4. What books have hooked you immediately and why? Perhaps it’s a striking voice, perhaps it’s a particular hook, perhaps it’s an interesting character. I often reread books I’ve loved to try and unpick how a writer has done it.
  5. Nothing is perfect the first time. I put my writing through more drafts than I can count, and each time I find another layer and fix something I didn’t notice the time before. Give it to someone else to read and think about their feedback. I try and allow my first draft to be bad, knowing I can improve it.

(c) Elizabeth Macneal

About The Doll Factory:

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal is the intoxicating story of a young woman who aspires to be an artist, and the man whose obsession may destroy her world for ever.

London. 1850. The greatest spectacle the city has ever seen is being built in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .

‘A sharp, scary, gorgeously evocative tale of love, art and obsession’ – Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

Order your copy online here.


Win a Writing Rretreat and Feedback from Elizabeth Macneal

Holiday Cottages are giving one writer the opportunity to pen their unfinished novel in their choice of one of three quaint British hideaways, all located in naturally beautiful landscapes that have inspired some of history’s greatest authors.
To enter, tweet a summary of your story with the hashtag: #WriTweet by midnight on 24th January 2020. The best entry will be chosen by bestselling author Elizabeth Macneal, and we will notify the winner within 28 days of the competition closing date.

Watch the video here: https://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/writers-retreat/

Tweet from Elizabeth Macneal: https://twitter.com/esmacneal/status/1201882264487047168

Terms and Conditions

Closing time for entries is midnight on the 24th January 2020. Any entries received before 9am on the 15th November 2019 or after midnight on the 24th January 2020 will not be taken into account.
The prize for one winner is a week-long holiday in one of three holiday cottages across the UK as advertised, as well as feedback from a literary expert at Pan Macmillan on their work. The feedback on the work produced at the cottage will be limited to 1-2 pages of feedback, with line edits and suggestions for a maximum of 10,000 words. The prize will include travel arrangements to and from the cottage up to the value of £1,000. One winner will be selected by our competition judge from all of the entries that are submitted on Twitter using #WriTweet, and the prize winner notified within 28 days of the competition closing. Reasonable endeavours will be made to contact the winner during this time.
If a winner cannot be contacted or is not available, holidaycottages.co.uk reserves the right to re-choose another winner from the entries which were received before the closing date. Delivery of the prizes will be arranged directly with the competition winners. If you are selected as the winner, you agree to allow holidaycottages.co.uk the free use of your name and general location for publicity and newsletter purposes during this and future competitions.
The competition is open to UK, Europe and US residents over 18 only. Only one entry per person via a single Tweet on Twitter. No employees, their families or agencies of holidaycottages.co.uk are eligible to enter the prize draw. No purchase is necessary for participation in this competition. Holidaycottages.co.uk has the right to withdraw the offer at any time without notice.

About the author

Elizabeth Macneal was born in Scotland and now lives in East London. She is a writer and potter and works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. She read English Literature at Oxford University, before working in the City for several years. In 2017, she completed the Creative Writing MA at UEA where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury scholarship. The Doll Factory, Elizabeth’s debut novel, won the Caledonia Novel Award 2018.

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