I have spent a fair amount of time lately thinking about entering a writing contest ... a specific writing contest. In the end, I decided not to. This lead me to thinking about taking my mystery novel out, sharpening my pencils (or learning to work with Dragon Speak!) and getting a first draft written. For me, the first chapter can be a difficult one. What do I need it to do? Introduce my main character, for one thing. Establish my "voice" for another. My voice for my fiction writing will be a bit different than my voice for other writing that I do. Or perhaps not ... perhaps I am always me.
In my mind, I need to make the main character a strong one ... one that readers will identify with, and that I feel comfortable with. Rather like the person that I would want to be. I want my readers to be drawn into this person's world, to want to walk with her, to want to finish the story! I want to show my character's strengths, and perhaps hint at what her weaknesses might be.
The first chapter is also where I set the tone for the story,where my readers decide if they want to read the rest of the book. Am I going to be uber serious? Am I going to inject a bit (but not too much!) humor? Is there a lot of blood and gore to follow? And by the way ... what is the theme? Perhaps I should sneak that into the first chapter too! Is it romance? Is it theft? Is it family secrets? Is it cyberspace? Is it addictions? Fess up ... let the reader know!
I know exactly where my mystery is going to take place ... in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is important to me as a reader to know what country, and what part of that country, a story that I am reading is taking place in. I will give my readers that same courtesy ... to know where the story is taking place. And the places will change, as I have great hopes on making this a mystery series.
The bad guy (antagonist) will need to show up in my first chapter too ... or at least a hint of who they are, why they are in that position (perhaps a bit of back story), and what the tension is between my main character and the antagonist. Hint ... the antagonist does not need to be all bad (none of us are all good or all bad).
Lots of stuff that I am finding out needs to be in my first chapter! That's okay - I am ready. I have my outline, and I have my characters sketched out in profiles. Who they are, where they live, what they do for a living, where they went to school, what their preferences and dislikes are. It's all written out! To be honest, I did that for reference for myself, so that I can keep my characters straight!
One least thought, that doesn't belong in this article, but is too good to keep quiet about! When you take out a phrase, or even a whole section, or chapter (this is called editing), don't throw it away. Keep it ... you may be able to use some of it in later chapters, or even in other books or articles. Waste not, want not!
(c) 2000-2013 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited in all venues without written permission from the author.