1 First chapter should establish a) what story’s about, b) present conflict, and c) protagonist’s motivation (why this is a conflict, and why he wants/needs to overcome it). First chapters should use the essay treatment to accomplish three purposes: capture the reader’s interest, suggest the importance of the essay’s topic, and proposes a thesis sentence (in fiction: a dilemma/conflict/issue).
Grab the reader’s interest. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should use a hook--a line designed to reel the reader in (e.g. "It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen"). If you do use a hook, then follow it through--the rest of the paragraph must be about the hook.
3 Choose a natural starting point—usually close to the action/dilemma. It’s a case of—“so, my problem started when” scenario. E.g. If your story is about a man on his way to his wedding who gets trapped in a sinkhole in the park, you might want to start with him preparing for his wedding and setting out to get there (everything in the chapter should presumably lead up to him getting trapped).
4 POV/Voice/Narration – once you’ve established a POV (first/third limited, etc.) you must create a voice that characterizes/personifies the MC (mannerism/speech/dialect, attitude). Match narration (description of events) to character’s natural voice—write in a way that is true to how the character thinks/speaks. For example: if you fall into a sinkhole (and survive), what thought would pop into your head? How would you be feeling? Write it as you’d naturally think it (“Shit! oh god, no—just effing no,” etc.). (B)Make sure that thoughts match action/environment. Would a character stuck in a sinkhole wallow in his misery, behave frantically, or would he wax about the beauty of nature? Make sure characters are present in the scene—responding/reacting to things happening around them (what are they thinking about the things they’re seeing?)
5 Be sparing with setting/details—don’t be too extensive. Avoid information dump (backstory about MC’s life, or how he met his fiancée can be sprinkled in throughout the manuscript).
6 Scene: select scenes that are necessary / meaningful to the plot. This can be hard, but it takes us back to point #3. Write what comes naturally (getting from A to B).
7 By the end of the first chapter, the stake should be clear/character’s motivation should make sense—events set in motion (E.g. I’m trapped in a sinkhole. I want to get out, b) how am I going to do that?)
- The reader should be interested in knowing his fate. Does he get out in time for his wedding? Does he ever get out? How will he get out? What’s a sinkhole doing in the park? What else is in it?