Captivate Fiction & Nonfiction Readers from the Start

A lot rides on the opening, which determines whether—or not—readers will commit to your book. For this reason, it’s best to leave writing the first chapter in polished detail until you’ve completed the first draft.

Here’s some tips for ways to achieve a memorable opener:

  • Set up the situation at hand: including setting, time period and the ‘inciting’ incident that kicks off the story.
  • Introduce an intriguing protagonist.
  • Start on the cusp of action, or in the thick of it, with minimal back story. You need to know all the background details, but readers likely don’t. Trust them to get the gist. (Note: some brilliant writing starts with a slow unfolding of setting details or flashbacks—but this requires mastery to hold readers’ attention.)
  • Can you open with a scene or half-scene (with the drama of in-the-moment action)?
  • Introduce a credible and engaging narrator’s voice and tone, giving readers a point of view to follow.
  • Establish some tension through action, words, and pacing. (Tension is usually related to the protagonist’s goals. What does your protagonist want?)
  • Foreshadow the drama of the story to come—and perhaps the ending.
  • Is setting pivotal to the action? Establish that here.
  • Introduce the antagonist (or antagonistic force).
  • Write a memorable, well-crafted opening line and paragraph!
  • Allude to the theme (or the dramatic question).
  • Establish the plot (a compounding chain of events.

Writing Exercises ~

Learn from the Masters:

Type the opening paragraphs of a few favourite books in your chosen genre, to fully scrutinize language and structure.

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Plan the Opener:

Freewrite or mind map about what should be included in the opening.

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Draft the Opener:

Make a list of the background details that lead up to the opening scene (for your reference).

Now: put that list aside and write a draft opener that drops the reader into the thick of the action.