Monday, September 19, 2011

The End from the Beginning, or rather The Beginning from the End

Weather Check: Bright and sunny. I guess there's no excuse for not getting out there and exercising!

We all know how important the first chapter is in catching an agents eye, but some writers can't seem to get past it. They spend months and months revising and editing trying to get it perfect, but never get around to finishing the book.

The best way to have a perfect first chapter is to FINISH THE BOOK. 

The first chapter sets up the whole novel. If the ending is unwritten, how can the first chapter set up the story to its full extent?

The first chapter should do several things:

1. Have a hook. Grab the reader’s attention and give them an idea of what to expect. But how can the writer know what the reader should expect until the work is completed as a whole?

2. Create a sense of voice. Voice takes time to develop. If you want a consistent voice, you have to write to the end. By the end of your story, you're voice will be organic and real. Then go back and fix the voice in the first chapter to make it consistent.

3. Use the perfect POV. Meaning that whichever point of view you choose to write from, it should be for a reason. And all the other elements in the story--setting, description, emotion--should be told only as they relate to the MC and the point of view. Sometimes it's hard to know if the point of view we've chosen is the right one for the story until we've gotten to the end of the book.

4. Establish the main problem of the story. According to Martine Leavitt, the best books must have the problem front and center. I've found for me, the problem I start out writing about doesn’t always end up being the most important one in the novel. That’s why it’s so important to know the end before the beginning can be perfected.

Finish your work. Let it sit. Then go back and revise the heck out of your first chapter. Your work will be stronger, more powerful, and more meaningful if you do.


  1. Julie, how are you? How's your story going? Thanks for the great post today. I'm nearly done with the first draft of my pirate story, and I couldn't agree more. You really can't fix the first chapter until you know all the ins and outs of your story-line and characterization - which comes about as you write and finish the story. I love reading a book that is well thought out and planned, and your find hints of it right in the first few pages. Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom, and happy writing!

  2. love your blog title....i literally just finished cleaning my toilets! and now i can write!

    i have the hardest time letting my stories stew a bit after they're written. i always want to dive back in. thanks for the reminder!

  3. From Alice in Wonderland:

    “Which road do I take?" (Alice)

    "Where do you want to go?" (Cheshire Cat)

    "I don't know," Alice answered.

    "Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”