Sunday, 21 February 2016

Common Writer Mistakes That Ruin The First Chapter

The opening pages are the most important in your story. It determines whether the reader is going to stay with your characters on this journey, or put your book back on the shelf and keep looking. 

Here are a few common mistakes to avoid.

#1. Generic Opening  

Avoid the 'day-in-the-life intro': Your character wakes up, looks at themselves in the mirror, describes what they look like, talks about what they'll wear that day...

Who cares?

A good opening shows three things: who the main character is, why the reader should care for them, and what their conflict is about. There should also be a question early on that hooks the reader.

#2. Too Much Backstory

This should be held back until we have a solid idea of the main character and their conflict. The backstory should be meaningful and propel the plot forward. Plus, don't give up all the answers at once, keep the mystery going for the reader.

#3. Inner Monologue That Goes Nowhere

Don't allow your characters to talk uninterrupted for more than a few paragraphs. The reader usually ends up feeling preached to and the story loses all sense of setting. And most importantly, it stops the action...dead! 

#4. No Conflict or Mystery

Instead of getting stuck in describing the everyday activity of your main character to establish their normal world before the inciting incident, you need to set up a situation that shows how they would normally tackle a problem. This will create reader sympathy and show the everyday world of your main character without boring the reader.

#5. Stilted Dialogue

Unless your character is Henry Higgins, your dialogue shouldn't be too formal.

"I cannot think of a better time to enjoy a walk out doors with you, Deidre."

Most people don't speak perfect English in regular conversations. For the reader it will come off as unnatural. Besides, dialogue is a great opportunity to show specific characteristics as well.

And beware of the fillers that take up valuable space on the page as simple, generic conversation that add nothing to the story.

"Good bye."
"So long."

"Thanks so much."
"You're welcome."

#6. Unclear POV

Otherwise known as head hopping. Stay in one person's point of view for a scene, especially for the first chapter when you need to convince the reader to invest in your main character. The less time they spend with them, the less likely they'll find them interesting or sympathetic. And if the reader doesn't care what happens to the main character then your plot doesn't really matter.

#7. Too Many Characters Introduced

The first chapter is not the place to bring out the whole cast. Think of a play or your favourite movie. Introduce each character in a way that makes them memorable to the reader. It's also handy to remember that you don't need EVERY character in EVERY scene.

What are some other pitfalls for the first chapter?

If you found this useful, check out these other posts for writers.

Ten Commandments For Writers

How To Make Your Readers Believe Anything

Tips To Secretly Work On Your Novel While At Your Day Job

How To Write A Nail Biting Climax

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