Tips for aspiring writers – part 5

Amanda Sington-Williams on: The first chapter.

Right, so - you’ve got your main character(s) and you’ve decided which is the best type of narrator to tell your story. You’ve either got a chapter by chapter plot with a detailed plan written out with military style precision or you’ve got an idea running round your head that you want to explore. Perhaps your novel plan exists somewhere in between: notes on the back of an envelope or a spidergram.

Anyhow, there you are with a blank screen/paper in front of you and you’re trying to think of that winning first line. But the time spent in this task might be better spent writing. So just write. Let the words flow and imagine that you are the character. This will be the first of many drafts so there is plenty of time to think of the opening sentence and it’s always a possibility that once you’ve finished the first draft of the novel, it will be apparent that it needs to start either earlier or later in the plot.

So, how to start? Firstly, locate your main character, somewhere in the first page, if not the first paragraph. Your reader will then be able to create a picture in their mind of where the story opens. Location refers to anything from the grander scale of a particular country or to the box room in a terraced house. It also refers to time. If the novel is set during a particular period this should probably be clear by the end of the first page.

Locate the character and where possible, without using adjectives and too much description and through the voice of the narrator, tell the reader a little about the main character. This can be done through their body language, how they view the world, what they are thinking and how they communicate.

Without giving the story away, seed clues about what lies on the pages ahead so the reader will be compelled to find out what happens next. What is the dilemma? How will the character deal with the issue that the narrator is hinting at? This is what you want the readers to be asking themselves and this is why they will keep reading.

As a rough guide, it is a good idea to have introduced all the main characters by the third chapter. But there are no hard and fast rules in writing fiction. If you want to introduce another main character in Chapter Eleven, for example, that’s fine as long as you know the reasons behind the decision.

Amanda and I would love to hear your views so please feel free to leave your comments below. And don’t miss the next instalment on August 11th: Dialogue.


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