My own chapter 1 went through the most edits plot wise and I rewrote it completely after finishing the entire draft. And now I have decided to always write the first chapter last because now I know the true end and what I want the reader to strap in for.
This time I picked one of the characters that are responsible for the MC predicament and is the most emotionally invested in the change this choice made. you get a lot more context wrapped up in the POV of this character and since the MC was involved in the events at the time is directly connects her to it the outcome even if the MC does not know everything. This one still has information that is skipped since the MC and this character never meet in the prologue but I can slide that in when relevant anytime when writing the MC's story.
Overall I think it's an improvement but I'd love your take if able.
penove Wrote: Just starting this off by saying, this isn't really a guide. More of a discussion. And of course, there is no correct way to write, if you feel comfortable with your chapter, who am I to judge?This is why my web novel sucks I guess xD
So, the first chapter of your book is a really important key piece in the structure of your fiction, perhaps even the most important, in my opinion. If you want consistent readers, that first chapter (or prologues, but we won't discuss those for a reason I'll explain in a bit) has to be TIGHT. But what the fuck do I mean by TIGHT? Well, let me tell you what I mean.
I've read many books here on Royal Road with my time review swapping, and something I don't think a lot of people understand is that when I go to read your book, I have noooo idea anything in your world, your characters, your heroes and villains. And I don't give a fuck. I don't care if your protagonist ate cereal for breakfast this morning before heading to school.
The most important goal in that first chapter is to make sure that I do give a fuck about the characters, the world, and the plot going forward. And I don't mean by giving extensive exposition. The number one thing that makes me want to stop reading your book is when I get hit with something like this as your first sentence:
In the world of Halorion, an ancient place that has been around since the time of gods, a burst of color erupted into the sky, flooding the small minstrel town of Jahko in iridescent light. Gods and men's faces shimmered in the light as a while stallion of constalations leaped across the night sky.
Four saints gathered, each with hands in prayer. There was Haravo, the patron saint of grand exposure, he was blessed by the gods after fighting off a vampire in the Hundilin mountains. His poise strengthened by the will of his convictions. His face was nice, expressing some emotion.
Then Jaya, she was the saint of lights and the heavens, the gods called upon her when her heroic mother died and... I'm pretty sure you get the point here.
What the fuck did you learn about this world? Nothing? If I told you the main protagonist had to go to the Hundlilin mountains in the fifteenth chapter, would you remember that name, or would you have to come back here to learn of it? Nobody would do that. And yes, I intentionally mispelt Hundilin to see if you'd catch it. I bet you didn't.
You see, we don't need to know about this drug trip of a cosmic event or some godly shit or any of these four saints. If it's foreshadowing, great! But don't fucking put it in the first chapter.
You can have the best book ever, and foreshadow whatever you want, but if that first chapter isn't set up right, it'll suck. Imagine if Game of Thrones had a bad first chapter? You think people would have read it to find out it had an excellent narrative (I don't think so, but whatever is your cup of tea)? No. It would have flopped. Just imagine the first chapter explains like all the backstory in the world, that'd be boring!
And the thing about the backstory, I believe it's better kept to your chest. I feel the less backstory you share, the better. Unless you can do something AWESOME with it, like trick the readers, or pull a really cool scene or reveal, I'd say keep the mystery. That's where fan theories and lore nerds come in to make sense of the world and encourages thinking from the reader! Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Basically, only share backstory if you can deliver a payoff that is worth sacrificing the ongoing mystery. Some mysteries are better unresolved.
So, I'm sure this is where you scrolled to to find out how to fix that first chapter! Here's three points your should focus on.
Point #1: Make sure we get filled in on your characters, QUICKLY!!!!
If you have a main protag, make sure we are hearing from whoever they are as early as possible. When I get into a book confused about who I am supposed to be following, it's not only confusing, it gives me less time to figure out why I should care about them. I like going into books optimistically, but I'm not the average reader either. They will not care about hardly anything, less caring than me.
Make sure I know what your character wears and show me how they act through their interactions in the first couple scenes. A great way to show us what they look like is to compare it to their personality. Say your character has red hair, and a feisty personality, but they enjoy the simple things in life. Instead of just saying that, you can make it interesting!
Johan swung open the door, glaring at Kibble with malintent. His bold, sharp red hair could have been on fire and it'd exude less energy.
"Did you fucking eat my cookies again, Kibble?!" he yelled, his mouth more agape than the lack of undershirt beneath his overcoat.
"Why do you care so much about your cookies?" Kibble replied, her brown hair sweating with guilt, it was already hot, but Johan's anger made her even more uncomfortable.
"W-w-who cares about that!? I saw you eating them!"
See how much information we got out while still telling the readers about the characters? It's entertaining to write and to read, now the readers know how Johan looks and acts, while fitting it into the flow of the scene. Basically, have an entertaining backdrop for character exposition. It doesn't need to be as dramatic as I made it, as long as your readers get clued in without falling asleep at your wall of text (please, don't make walls of text, that's an instant no from me)
And when I refer to the main protag being in the first chapter, that doesn't mean the prologue. Remember what I said about the prologue? There is a difference that many people don't seem to understand here between prologue and first chapter.
Basically, prologues are for stuff like recalling an event from the past THAT WILL BE PREVELANT WITHIN THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS!!! Prologues can also serve to set up the story, get everything into place before beginning, but if you do this, make sure the MC is prevalent to these things. Since, in our example, the MC was nowhere to be seen for a good three sentences.
Point #2: The exposition.
Everyone is gonna bring this one up, it's a really tricky one to get around however. I would blame you if you had it, because it's integral to the plot. But let's help you shave some of it off.
Basically think about anything that won't further the story, especially in the short term. Delete it. Be sure to also deliver the tone of the book in the first chapter. Is it jokey, comedic? Include some funny jokes! Is it going to be about dissecting corpses? Dead things? Gore? Prepare the reader for that with some blood and death!
Make sure though that everything has some purpose. If a line doesn't have purpose, it only serves to up the word count (and please don't fucking do that in the first chapter). The chapter needs to be not too long, not too short, and have all the things you need, a short chapter (compared to what you plan to write) is recommended. I know that sounds vague, but we're talking about writing here, I can't really cover every genre here in one post, can I?
Point #3: Gods, Deities, and why you should never even touch on them at the start.
Obviously, this goes without saying, if your book focuses on Gods, go ahead, talk all you want about them. But I have no clue why you MUST include some confusing long rant about basically nothing at the start of your book.
Here, let me take an example from an unnamed book I recently re-read that talked about a godly event in the first chapter (no MC in sight) in the worst possible way. This is literally the first line in the book.
The light poured from the cosmic abyss onto the shattered planet. Two lone figures watched the pieces floating through space without a single care.
"The fact that we are together still matters, Rombus."
"No, I believe this is too far."
He fell over into the sea of grass, waiting for his planet to finally die.
"I didn't do this for you. We are gods, I did it for us."
Harold woke up in his bed, got dressed, put some cereal in his bowl, and poured his milk. He was worried. His wife had left him weeks prior and his son was still missing. His hair was grey and he had on a black nightgown adorned with gold embroidery. He huffed, his stress releasing from his gut.
Two things here. Firstly, Harold isn't the MC, his son is, and the gods never get talked about until past chapter TWENTY!!! The MC isn't here, and he doesn't show up until the end of the chapter. Basically saying, "Oh boy! Cliffhanger! I wonder what the MC is going to be like!?"
Secondly. This book is titled 'How to Become a Sorcerer', and I wrote it. Yep, that was my writing. It was from seven years ago, and I wrote quite a lot too! But I'm not sharing that here. Either way, it's safe to say this would have hooked a grand total of NOBODY.
Gods and deities serve as nothing but confusion, distraction, and something strewing the focus. The smart thing to do, if you must have them, is to save them until later, maybe a couple chapters, so the MC can develop, and interact with the world around them. I saw a great book today, Chronicles of a Blessed Adventurer, read it by the way, it's honestly got a really smart writer who's got potential, and got me hooked on chapter 1. In that book, he'd talked about existence of gods in the prologue (which set up the story and only touched on those points), but said almost nothing about them until later, when we got a chapter dedicated to a god that will be prevalent later.
The chapter was short, like really short, almost as if to apologize for cutting away from the gripping plot and cliffhanger in the previous chapter, but I found it really good, rapid fire introducing us to 3 or so characters in a memorable way, showing us who we should care about, and showing how they tie into the plot, before finishing and going right back to the MC's story. The events in that mini-chapter directly affected the plot going forward, noticably too, not just something in the background we don't see.
Anyway! This post is 10 times longer than I first intended!
To wrap up, I'll say if you wish to write a book, finish some chapters first, and then go back and see if that first chapter reflects those well, if it sets up well. 99% of the time, of course, it won't. But, this is so you don't get stuck on that first chapter trying to predict what will happen next to perfectly convey it. Just relax, writing is fun, and if you aren't enjoying it, you don't have to (well, writing fiction on Royal Road that is).
That first chapter is the most important one of your book, and if you don't do it well, your book will look shoddy in comparison. If there is anything to be stressed about, it's making sure the first thing your new readers see is AWESOME!!!
With that, if you wanna hear a good first chapter, I know one that has been highly acclaimed... mine.
But in seriousness, I think (and I've been told) my first chapter expresses all of the things I've stated here, so I believe that's a good place to look if you wanna see an amazing first chapter.
I want to help other people too, so, post your books down below and I'll have a look at those first chapters of yours! And if you have any thoughts, leave those too!
Hope all this jargon helped in some way!
"Get that third Paragraph fixed, Maggot! No one gives a damn about a side character that doesn't have a single quote in the whole book, I get that he's supposed to illustrate what the protagonist has to deal with, but he's god-darned irrelevant! You aren't even worth calling a damned blogger, you hamfisted redditor! Where are you from, the Muds? There's only two things that come out of the Muds, Boy, trolls and coals, and You don't burn for crap, son!"