The opening chapter of your novel is important. Next to the cover, it may be your most important selling point. So, what makes a good first chapter? What draws a reader in and causes him or her to tuck that book under their arm and head for the check out counter or hit that “Buy” button on Amazon?
In the genres of thrillers and action adventure there are certain components that are common to all first chapters. This is not to say that they don’t work in any genre. Let’s take a look at them:
- The opening line or opening paragraph has to draw the reader in. Here are some opening lines. Can you name the novel they are from?
- Call me Ishmael.
- Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
- Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
- All this happened, more or less.
books: Moby Dick, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Pride and Prejudice, The Trial, and
Slaughterhouse-Five. How many did you get right?)
- Introduce your protagonist. The protagonist is usually in their ordinary world. But, in a thriller or action adventure novel it means the ordinary world may be fraught with problems or conflict which must be quickly addressed by the hero. This allows our hero to demonstrate their special ability and foreshadows the coming major conflict of the novel. The extreme example of this is the series of James Bond movies. Just after the opening credits, Bond finds himself in an impossible situation with death on his heels. He escapes with the aid of some space age gadget provided by Q. What we learn from this is that Bond is a man familiar with danger and that we’re in for a heck-of-a thrill ride. By the way, if your first chapter is fairly short, you can introduce your protagonist in the second chapter.
- Introduce your antagonist. They are usually the instigators of the main conflict of your story so get them involved early. Now, you don’t have to physically show your antagonist at the onset. Sometimes opening your novel with a dramatic scene of mayhem entices your reader with the level of malevolence, sophistication, and drive your antagonist possesses and thus the hurdles your protagonist will face.
- Your writing has to be done well in the opening chapter to keep your reader reading. This probably goes without saying.
- Finally, end your opening with a cliffhanger—the first step in a rising staircase of cliffhangers throughout your story.