How to Write a Fantastic First Chapter

How to Write A Fantastic First Chapter

The first chapter of a story has a lot to deliver. On top of setting up your main character, and their world, it also has to hook the reader. Get it wrong, and you’ve lost the reader–that’s game over! So to help you get it right, here’s some tips on what you should or shouldn’t do in that all important first chapter.

Setting up your first chapter.

Do – introduce your Main Character. The reader needs a sprinkling of basic details to build a picture of the character. Show them in their ordinary surroundings, living with a flaw (or emotional wound) that impacts their lives in a negative way, ready to take them on their arc.

Dohint at the theme. It might only be a sentence, but it will help set the tone of the story, giving the reader a taste of what’s to come.

Don’t – start with lengthy exposition, world building, flashbacks or dreams. This also includes lengthy internal monologue, while your character stares out the window. It’s super boring. Instead, orient the reader in your MC’s world right from the start.

Dream Big and Let Nothing Hold You Back
Photo by Matheus Bertelli from Pexels

Do – keep the scene active. Have your character interact with the world around her. We want to see her/ him running for the bus because they’re late again. Out hunting for food to feed their starving family. Or leaving their own birthday party, because the cute guy hasn’t noticed her, only to bump into him in the courtyard (that’s a scene from one of my novels). Set the pace, set the tone and get the reader inside the character.

Do – Include your characters goals. You’ll want to hint at, or include, the conflict that will prevent your MC from reaching their goal, thus injecting stakes. If you’re following The Three Act Story Structure, then the inciting incident may not appear in the first chapter. But delivering the set up, that will propel your MC to take action and begin their journey, is a skill worth building.

Don’t – bog down your first chapter with side characters. Keep it central to the protagonist. That doesn’t mean you can’t include other characters, that’s not realistic or practical, but limit them so that the reader connects to your MC first. If your story is a romance novel; include the love interest. If it’s a murder mystery; have them stumble across a dead boy. And it’s always fun to hint at or include the antagonist too.

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Do – open the scene with an intriguing, catchy first sentence. This is a skill all writers would love to possess. Read the first page of lots of books, get a feel for what works and what doesn’t… and practice, practise, practice.

Remember, just because were told not to do something, doesn’t mean we have to listen. If you want to open your scene with a flashback, or multiple charters, then go for it. Read lots and write lots, that is the real advice, and the best way to learn your craft.

I’m sure there are many more do’s and don’ts. Do you have any? Tell me friends, what piece of advice would you give for writing a first chapter. You know I love hearing from you, so please leave a comment.

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Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2020.
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How to Revise your Manuscript Using a Reverse Outline – Review of Jeni Chappelle’s webinar.

Hello my fellow writers and welcome! This week I’ve completed my fourth manuscript; a speculative fiction called Entangled of around 90’000 words. Finishing the first draft is a fantastic moment, but it’s also only the beginning of a novels journey to completion. I’m currently in an odd position where I have three novels all at different phases of the revision process. I must admit the task of tackling a first revision is still as daunting as it was the first time. I recently attended a webinar by editor Jeni Chappelle who has a wealth of experience, so I thought I’d share it with you.

The first part of editing may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s vital: Put the MS down and forget about it. Leave it on the hard-drive or locked in a draw and focus on something else. When the time comes, you’ll want to be as objective as possible. You’ll want to forget about the subplots and character arcs. You’ll need to switch your brain from being a creative writer, to an analytical observer. Time and distance from your WIP will help.

Jeni talk us through the three phases of revision, the first one is to look at the structural elements of your story. The plot and character arcs are the foundations of your novel. It’s fundamental to do this type of revision first; the set up if you like, to see if the novel works.

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While I’ve always started my process by reading through the whole manuscript, making notes on the things I want to change or clarify – Jeni opens up a whole list of vital question to ask during this process. Jeni gets us thinking about the internal goals and conflicts of the characters. The webinar gives the key to unlocking all of the hidden workings behind a successful story.

I found Jeni’s friendly approach not only welcoming but also easy to understand, despite the in-depth scope of the lesson. During the half an hour webinar, Jeni helps distinguish the importance of identifying the plot and pacing, and much, much more.

Jeni teaches writers how to Create a reverse outline. If you’re having heart palpitations at the thought of this, trust me, you’re not alone. A reverse outline is an overview of your novel, enabling the writer to structure their novel. Stories should follow a novel structure, their are many to choose from, but I prefer to model my stories on the three act structure.

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Once we’ve identified the gaps in our manuscript its time to start editing. Perhaps your MC needs clearer defined goals, or the pacing is too slow to start. Maybe some of the scenes need to be switched around to enable the story structure to flow.

The process will be different for everyone, the important part is trying. That’s where you’ll learn and grow as a writer. Once you’ve finished the first round of revision, you may choose to ask a critique partner to help out. They will be able to point out any areas you may have overlooked.

Send your work out to beta readers and return the favour by critiquing their work. This is the stage I’m at with my third MS Crown of Lies. It’s a valuable chance to put into practice the knowledge you’ve gleaned from revising your own work. While it can be daunting, it is undoubtedly the most valuable skill you’ll learn as a writer.

If you’re stuck and you’re searching for professional feedback, you may want to work with a developmental editor, or simply get feedback of your submission package. (This is the stage I’m at with my second novel, before I query again.) Today’s post has been influenced by one of Jeni Chappelle webinars. She is a co-founder of #RevPit over at Twitter. Check her out – subscribe to her newsletter. Not only does she have great content and she’s also a fantastic editor too.

What resources do you use when editing? Do you like to use the reverse outline method, or do you tackle the issue in a different way. I’d love to hear all about your process, please share your experiences with me.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2020.
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Exploring Story Structures

I had a great question from a fellow blogger, asking for clarity on the different types of story structures. So I did a little research, and guess what… while there are slight differences, ultimately the three, four, and yes I found a five act story structure are all similar.

They all follow the same patterns, and they all fall into three sections: Protasis, Epitasis and Catastrophe. Don’t let those the phases intimidate you.

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Here’s the basics, I’ll let you decide for yourself:

Three Act Story Structure:

  • Opportunity – Start in the ordinary world, reveal Hero’s goals, until they’re called to action which introduces the stakes.
  • Point of no return – The hero progresses, alternating between change and resistance; failure, plans, running, hiding, learning new skills to combat antagonistic forces. The hero tries to win. Complications emerge, raising the stakes, resulting in a false defeat or all hope is lost scenario.
  • Climax – The hero embraces change, conquering their inner demon. They’ve glean the final piece of information, perfects their skills, and overcome all hurdles. Finally, they defeat the antagonistic force. We embrace them in their new world, fully transformed, with a sense of catharsis, or a release of tension.

Writer Author Cat

Four Act Story Structure:

  • The set up – Start in the ordinary world, reveal Hero’s goals, until they’re called to action which introduces the stakes.
  • The response – The hero progresses, alternating between change and resistance, failure, plans, running, hiding and/ or learning new skills to combat antagonistic forces.
  • The attack – The hero tries to win. Complications emerge, raising the stakes, resulting in a false defeat or all hope is lost scenario.
  • The resolution – The hero embraces change, conquering their inner demon. They’ve glean the final piece of information, perfects their skills, and overcome all hurdles. Finally, they defeat the antagonistic force. We embrace them in their new world, fully transformed, with a sense of catharsis, or a release of tension.

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Five Act Story Structure:

  • Exposition – Start in the ordinary world, reveal hero’s goals.
  • Rising Action – Hero is called to action which introduces the stakes. The hero progresses, alternating between change and resistance; failure, plans, running, hiding and/ or learning new skills to combat antagonistic forces.
  • Climax – The hero tries to win. Complications emerge, raising the stakes, resulting in a false defeat or all hope is lost scenario.
  • Falling Action – The hero embraces change, conquering their inner demon. They’ve glean the final piece of information, perfects their skills, and overcome all hurdles. Finally, they defeat the antagonistic force.
  • Denouement – We embrace them in their new world, fully transformed, with a sense of catharsis, or a release of tension.

Of course there are different ways to structure a novel that don’t follow the Protasis Epitasis, Catastrophe arc. Check out Four Way to Structure Your Novel where I explore other ways to structure your novel. 

A great resource for structuring your novel is: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing That You’ll Ever Need I highly recommend this book.

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What’s your favourite story structure? And do you agree, or disagree with my analysis of the three, four and five acts. Share your opinions with me, we can learn new things by sharing information. You know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2020.
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Novel Writing – The Three Act Story Structure

A quick reference Infographic for all writers, whether you’re a plotter or planster, to help guide you through your hero’s journey. Take a look at the Three Act Structure and see if it suits your story.

There are other methods, which I’ve covered them in another post: Four Ways To Structure A Novel. If you want to know more, check it out.


I hope you enjoyed this fun glance at structuring novels. The options are endless, let your imagination run free and don’t give your hero an easy time. 😉

If you’re interested in further ideas, check out: Six Ways To End Your Story. 

Happy Writing.
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Do you use the Three Act Structure? Or do you have prefer another method? Please share your writing style, know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2020.