How To Create A Read-Worthy Opening Chapter

A classic piece of writing advice is to hook the reader with the first sentence.

While what makes a great sentence is so subjective that such advice is near impossible to achieve, it’s the sentiment that is sound. You want to grab the reader with your opening so that they’ll want to pick up and finish your book. The good news is that you have the whole first chapter to do that, and these tips to help you.

How To Create A Read-Worthy Opening Chapter

Star Intros

Barring exceptions of prologues, instances where you need to start with the killer to set up a murder, or opening your story with a flashback or flash-forward, if you can make the first character your reader meets your Main Character or the set of characters that you want them to like, do that.

The MC or lead characters are who your readers will spend most of the story with, and you’ll want to establish a rapport ASAP.

Start with your MC being heroic, or in a situation that will garner sympathy (Save The Cat!). If your leads are two best friends, a couple, or a pairing verging on being a couple, use those dynamics.

Hit the reader with fun, flirty, or well-established friendship vibes and chances are they’ll relate to it and want to see where things go, which is the first step to a read-worthy opening. For the second step (and more), read on…

World Peek

Step two: world peek!

There’s nothing worse than an opening where the reader has no idea of the setting. It’s confusing and when readers are confused, they get frustrated. Don’t do that to yourself, especially in the opening chapter, when you have such little time to get things moving.

To create a read-worthy opening, you’ll want to establish a peek at your book world. It’s only a peek because the first chapter is not the time or place to info-dump every little thing about how your book world functions.

If you’re working in the known, modern world, it’s easy to quickly establish this for your readers. Your MC could be using their smartphone waiting for an Uber. Just those two simple things will let the reader know where and when they are just as easily as a description of your MC in full armor galloping across a field on a horse preparing to draw their sword means that they aren’t in modern times.

Choose simple key elements to highlight what will place your characters and readers in your world and leave everything else for the following chapters. You have an entire book to world-build. Include just a peek and pique the reader’s interest instead, encouraging them to read on.

99 Problems

Generally, you’re not writing this story because life for your MC is perfect. Your story is being written because they have a problem.

It could be huge like they woke up next to a dead body, the murder weapon in their bloody hand, and no recollection of what had happened. Or they could have just lost their job, one of many problems that are snowballing around them and threatening to unravel their carefully curated life.

Problems for your characters move the plot forward. They also make for a great opening. If you can work a good problem into your first chapter and bait the reader into wanting to know how it pans out or will be solved, then you’ve got another reason for readers to keep going once they’ve cracked open your book.

Stellar Starts

Another classic piece of writing advice is to start where the story starts. If hearing/reading that advice makes you roll your eyes because, of course, you’ve started where the story starts, are you sure?

Let’s say you’re writing a heist caper and you’ve opened your first chapter with the would-be robbers in a van at dusk staking out the bank they’re about to rob. With this type of opening, you’re introducing the MC and any secondary characters, and you’re establishing a setting and time. The dialogue between characters even spells out the plan as they run through their checks. You’re doing everything right for an opening chapter. But, what if instead of starting your book at the planning of the heist, you start it right in the middle?

The same characters are introduced. You’re still establishing the setting as a bank, but you’ve put the reader right in the action. They’re there with the characters as they’re pulling off the heist, perhaps right when everything is going to plan or going wrong.

Anything you wanted to introduce with the slower van opening, such as a connection between the MC and their accomplice or the reason for the heist can all be given after the start, dripped in as the story moves along to create an air of mystery with unanswered questions. Starting where the meat of the story starts gives your book the best opening, so double-check that you’ve done that.

If you feel you have, another stellar start tip is to establish the tone of your book. If it’s horror, and you’ve opened with anything but something creepy, it’ll only lead to confusion for your readers when chapter 2 kicks off with a demon hunt.

If you can nail the start of your book with the right tone, where the story starts, a problem that shakes up the MC’s world, a peek at the world that is being shaken up, and a good intro to the MC and/or secondary characters then you’ve created a read-worthy opening chapter! Now, just repeat that for every chapter after, and every other book you’ll write.

— K.M. Allan

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27 thoughts on “How To Create A Read-Worthy Opening Chapter

  1. Grant at Tame Your Book!

    Excellent advice, Kate! You got me to thinking about how many of your recommendations apply to most of the scenes within a chapter. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

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