Elliot Chan’s vlog on how to improve the first chapter of your novel
I’ll admit it, my first chapter was not what I thought it would be… there are many areas I can improve.
I counted 6 areas — at least. In this episode, I’m going to highlight six editing tips that you can use when you start writing and editing your first chapter. It is an important chapter, so it is worth taking the time to get it right. You want to introduce the character and the setting. You want to show off some flair and mystery, but you don’t want to cross the line: offer too much backstory, describe the character too much, or miss the opportunity to do the most important thing: tell your story.
1. Know where your story starts
Are you starting in the middle of an action sequence or a moment of intensity? Or are you starting by easing the readers into the story with a regular average day set up? Knowing where your story begins allows you to set the tone for your story.
2. Don’t Over Describe
You may want to impress everyone with your wonderful word choices, but don’t overload it at the start. The important thing is the story. Allow the actions to illustrate your character’s traits and save some of those well-written descriptions for when you really need them.
3. Have a Main Character
Your readers will need a guide through the plot. It can become hard to follow if multiple characters are jostling for the main storyline. You can switch characters later on, sure, but at the beginning, it is advantageous to appoint a character with the lead.
4. Cut Backstory
Don’t overload your first chapter with too much backstory. It is easy to do because you, as a writer and creator of worlds, want to get all the juicy details, history, and lore onto the page. Which is fine. But you are going to have to cut it in the second draft. I must remind you that backstory, although may play a critical role in the story itself, it is also more impactful if the history can be revealed in a way that it feels well blended into the plot. Too much backstory slows everything down.
5. Don’t Mislead
It might be tempting to add a twist or a surprise into your novel right off the bat. Nothing like a good shock to hook your readers, right? Unfortunately, misleading your reader can piss them off and cause them to put down the book and go off and do something that they know will have an appropriate payoff, like cleaning the house. I implore you to avoid starting any story with a dream or simulation sequence.
6. Can it Be a Short Story?
Forget everything else about your novel. Throw it all away. Actually, don’t. Just put it aside. Take only your first chapter and ask yourself, “If someone found this one the street, and they read it… will it be enough for them to have a good time?” If the answer is yes, then carry on.
I hope these tips helped, please let me know what you think. Love to hear your feedback.
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Reposted from Elliot Chan’s website.