This week’s blog answers the question of how do we begin? This is really two different questions (how do I begin my novel and how do I begin my story) so I will be answering it in two parts. First, how do we begin our novel and what should we do and not do in our first three chapters? Let’s get started.
Good beginnings should start a step back from the inciting incident. Don’t make your reader wait for the action, dive right in. Good beginnings should also hook the reader, introduce main characters (without info dumping), introduce setting (sprinkled in), build up tension, and establish voice. Your first three chapters are the most crucial because agents and publishers will judge your story on the first three chapters and so will your readers. If you don’t have strong characters and an intriguing plot your readers will not make it very far before giving up. Use action and dialogue to Show Not Tell and avoid info dumps. The best way for readers to get to know your characters is to show who they are in what they do and say. Don’t get stuck in an internal monologue, we need action to care about and understand your characters. Draw your reader into the story.
Do not get stuck on backstory. Leave questions for the reader and keep the action going. Give information as needed throughout your story. Do not start with a dream, it cheats the reader by wasting their time understanding something that didn’t even happen. Do not give overly detailed descriptions. It halts all action and calls attention to the writing instead of the story. Let your POV characters describe their world. Do not lose focus either by juggling too many characters, too many storylines, too many POV changes, or too many places in your story. Help your reader settle in to the story. Do not use laundry lists of descriptions whether for a character or setting. Break up descriptions and sprinkle them in throughout your beginning. Do not have your characters simply thinking or reflecting on their life. It’s boring for the reader to just sit with a character. Use action to show how your character is feeling or thinking instead of telling us what they feel. Do not rely on flashbacks in the beginning. Readers need to be interested in the current story happening now before they’re willing to delve into the past. Do not use prologues to dump backstory. Figure out how to add it into the current story.
These are some good basics for what to do and what not to do in your first three chapters. I know I personally struggle with strengthening the beginning of my manuscript to get it ready for publication. Follow these dos and don’ts and let me know if you have any rules for your first three chapters. Comment below and happy writing.