Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Chapter Checklist

I recently listened to a fabulous webinar by Sarah Domet, author of 90 Days to Your Novel.

Everything she said was brilliant and simple. And the best part is...I already knew everything she recommended. I'm one step closer to not being a beginner. ;)

Light bulb moment: Stop researching some of this stuff and just WRITE!

But, I digress. That's not what I want to talk to you about today.

I know everyone is out there polishing up their contest entries, right? I'm doing the same thing -- and running out of time! As always! 

But during this particular webinar, Sarah pointed out a few key things to have in your first chapters (the chapters a content judge will read) to get your reader hooked. Some of this might be "duh" to you prolific writers but little ole me was scribbling mighty fast as she listed them off.

  • The earlier you can reveal a conflict the better
  • Get the reader to care immediately
  • Raise curiosity and beg questions of the reader
  • Make readers feel invested immediately
  • Avoid long descriptions of setting and overly long internal dialogue
  • Begin in the middle of the action
  • Zoom in on the Protagonist ASAP
  • Pay attention to pacing - readers want to make progress
  • Provide insight into character motivations
And there were many more. I love lists like this. Mainly because I'm a checklist girl. I like crossing things off. So this is right up my alley. 

What do you think? Are these suggestions spot on? Any you disagree with? Any others you would add? What is the hardest for you to work into your opening chapters? 

Good luck to all you contest-entering crazies! 


  1. Beginning in the middle of the action can be tricky b/c we also want to work at grounding the reader. There's a delicate balance to doing both.

    Good luck! Go get 'em.
    ~ Wendy

  2. This is a great list to begin with.

    Best wishes on your entry!

  3. I'm with Wendy. It's hard to start smack dab in the middle and ground the reader. But doable--after 18 billion rewrites! LOL

    Cheering you on for the contest! :)

  4. Woohoo! Go Lacie, Go! Love that you're entering the Genesis and that you're learning so much about the craft of writing. :)

  5. Great list, Lacie! Thanks for sharing. :)

    I concur with Wendy and Jessica. I've had to do a lot of rewrites that actually take a step back and provide more context. I guess I tend to err too far on the "keep it moving" side. :)

  6. Great points. I like writing the first chapter. It's the middle of the book where I really struggle.

  7. Wishing you well as you polish that Genesis entry, Lacie.

    One of the things I tend to miss and have to go back and add to the opening chapters are the sensory details.

  8. Such good reminders! Thanks for the conveinent little list! I tend to start just before the action. That one always gets me. Plus, I do tend to be overly descriptive. Too bad I already submitted, this would have been more helpful last week :)


I'd love to hear your thoughts too!