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First Pages, First Chapters /Pt.2

How to avoid common pitfalls when writing your first chapter

As an editor, mentor and children's novel competition judge, I read a lot of first chapters, and many share similar issues which keep them from fully engaging the reader.

Part 2: Hard-working words

Is your first chapter putting in the effort?

First pages need to work hard – I mean really hard. They’re a bit like authors: so much to do and so little time. Gone are the days of languidly drifting into a novel; these days there is such fierce competition that, unless your writing goes beyond the norm, you need to grab that reader and not let go … right from page one.

Who might read your first page?

  • Reader – might read the first page in the bookshop or using the ‘see inside’ function online

  • Reviewer/literary scout/rights agent – will be considering many books at once

  • Editor/Publisher – will be taking a leap of faith if you’re a debut

  • Agent – needs to love your words in order to champion you, and they have A LOT of words to read

  • Competition judge – looking for standout writing

  • You, the writer – need to showcase your craft at its best

What should you include in your first page(s)

Ideally: character, setting, the sense that something will change and finally voice. For me, that last one is crucial – when I pick up a book, especially one from a new author, I want to know I’m in good hands. If I’m to commit to this journey, I need to trust that the writer knows what they’re doing.

How can you improve your first page?

  1. Write the first chapter last (or, write a place-holder chapter one, then refine it after you’ve finished the book – once you know your character and theme better)

  2. Make your words count – cut anything that isn’t lending to the elements mentioned above. I practise the art of succinct narrative by writing flash fiction

  3. Open with a hook, either one that unfolds across the first few pages, or a killer opening line

  4. Don’t rush to fit EVERYTHING in and stay in the moment (see part 1 of this blog series)

Check your first page today - is it doing enough? Is it doing too much?

The key is to find the balance

Happy writing!


Join me next time for more first page chat, and if you'd like free feedback on YOUR first page, click below and say hello

From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing


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