Common Pitfalls To Avoid In Your First Chapter


  1. Unknown1Starting your story with the mundane. You want to provide a picture of your characters everyday life but it should be clear, concise and short.  Provide just enough information about normal so that when the situation changes, there is a notable difference. Don’t bog your reader down with page upon page of happy normal character or backstory. Get to the action. Create the potential for conflict from the very first page-even while sharing normal and backstory. If your story takes forever to warm up, your reader might not make it to the good parts.
  2. Information dumps. I hate to get bogged down with description overload. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. I could care less how many yards of silk and lace went in to making that dress or that it had three gold buttons on the front and pearl closures on the back. Unless it’s playing a large role in your story don’t go there. I’m impressed that you researched but I don’t have to know everything you learned about the era. The most common dump  is introducing to many characters in the first chapter. That’s one I didn’t think about. The more characters you cram into a scene, the harder it is for the reader to keep up with. Makes sense to me.
  3. Lazy Language. With your first chapter you can’t afford to have careless mistakes. Cliches, mispelling, structural and grammatical errors-if it’s something you can catch while proofreading, then there is no reason for it to be in your first chapter. Don’t give agents a reason to toss your work to the side.

There is so much to writing. While these three pitfalls are keys to writing a great first chapter, you can’t just forget everything else you’ve learned. You are including dialogue in that first chapter. Make sure it is seamlessly integrated into your work (I have previous blogs on writing dialogue-check them out). Make sure you have established your POV(see previous blog). You should never have more than one POV in a scene. If you do you are head bopping. No on the nose writing-the number one mistake of new writers (I have a post). What about pacing? Is it moving the reader along or has it stalled? So much to keep up with but you can do this 🙂

Hope this helped someone on their journey to being published. There is so much to keep up with. That’s ok though it doesn’t have to be perfect after the first draft. Remember-get it done then get it good.

Common Pitfalls To Avoid In Your First Chapter

What’s The Most Important Part Of Your Novel?

It’s the beginning and more specifically the first sentence, then paragraph, then page, then chapter. You have to grab your reader the minute they pick up your novel.

If you’ve moved far along enough on your journey, you’ve probably sent your manuscript out to a few agents or are making last minute adjustments in preparation for sending it out.

One thing I’ve noticed with all of them, they don’t want to see your entire manuscript. Don’t try to be bold and overconfident by sending them the entire thing. They probably will toss it to the side for your failure to follow instructions and even if they do read, they won’t get very far if the first pages aren’t compelling enough to draw them in (which was the part they wanted to see in the first place).

Agents as a rule, only want your first few pages. Some will ask for more but none want to see the entire manuscript until they know you can write and write a compelling story. You have to make them want to see more. Leave them hanging on the edge of their seat. They will ask for the rest of your manuscript just to find out what happens next.

That’s the same thing that will happen for your readers.  You want to do it in an e-book and bypass the literary agent, that’s fine but your readers will do the same thing the agent does. They will read a sample prior to buying the book. It had better be compelling from the beginning or you lost a sale. Remember you’re asking people to invest time and money when they purchase your work. Make it worthy of their interest.

Look at your first chapter as a promise to your readers. Remember your first pages set the tone and ground rules for how  you will tell your story.  No matter how polished your manuscript is, how compelling your characters are, how tightly you’ve plotted the story, that first chapter has to draw the reader in or they will never know.

I would love to hear from you. If you have any comments or suggestions please share them. I would also like to ask that you consider following me on this journey. I blog twice a week and you will receive an email whenever I post a new blog or edit an older one.

-Jan R



What’s The Most Important Part Of Your Novel?