WHOO-HOO! Paper Lantern Writers has just published our FIRST CHAPTERS COLLECTION, a complimentary collection of five of our First Chapters. Get your epub or pdf here and settle down for some great historical fiction reading.
So with our new publication, now seems like a great time for us to talk about What are your First Chapter goals?
Linda shares that “Authors know that a novel’s first chapter is critical.
It has to grab the reader’s attention so that they continue to Chapter Two. In THE ALOHA SPIRIT, I started with an attention-getting first line, “Dolores’s father deemed her useless when she was seven.” With that sentence, readers know Dolores is the main character, and hopefully they already empathize. The rest of the chapter sets up the time frame—1922 Honolulu—and the situation—Dolores’s father is leaving her to go to the mainland to look for work.
Historical fiction requires a bit of scene setting that anchors the novel in time and place. I want readers to get a feel for the time but not drown in the details, so I added bits of the Hawaiian language, references to food, weather, flora and fauna, and legends. Later in the book there will be more of this, but just a spattering in Chapter One. It’s more important in the first chapter to have plenty of action that sets up conflict. Dolores’s father walks her to the house of a Hawaiian family and leaves her there to be adopted informally. She meets a few of the children and says goodbye to her father and brother. Then the mama of the house gets down to business. No more smiling. Clearly she will be an antagonist.”
Kathryn says, “In the first chapter of THE CASKET MAKER’S OTHER WIFE a pregnant mother of two finds out that her husband has left her.
For a single mother living in 1869 Switzerland there would be few options. Either remarry—quickly—or go into some type of indentured servitude. My protagonist’s interest in a new religion provides a third option. I wanted my first chapter to lay the foundation for Anna’s decision to join the Mormon church, emigrate to America and become a plural wife.
I decided to start the story in Switzerland rather than America because I wanted to remind the reader that all immigrants come from somewhere else. That their story does not begin the day they set foot in a new country, nor does the influence of their former life end once they’ve left their homeland.
The working title of the book was A BETTER COUNTRY, taken from the New Testament (Hebrews 11:16) where the author describes a better country, a heavenly city, that God has prepared for his disciples. My first chapter shows Anna making the decision to find that city—that better country–no matter what it takes.”
C.V. Lee tells us “because the first chapter, and especially those opening paragraphs, are so important, she has re-written it more than fifty times and is still not satisfied.”
In my opening paragraph, I am struggling to embody my story in the first few sentences that will inform the reader of what my story is really about, hinting at the essence of the themes that will be explored throughout the novel.
The first chapter of my work-in-progress (WIP) ROSES & REBELS introduces the audience to my main character, a child for the first several chapters of my book. I am faced with the challenge of engaging an adult audience to care about what is happening in the life of a 11-year-old boy.”
Ana rounds out the discussion with “We all know how important and how tricky the first chapter is!
I’m rewriting the first chapter in my WIP (a murder mystery set on the vaudeville stage in 1919 San Francisco) and it is DRIVING ME CRAZY!
Like Linda, I know what I’m supposed to do—hook the reader by creating conflict, introducing an sympathetic protagonist, and setting the scene—and I’m certainly doing that.
In addition, since I write historical crime fiction—murder mysteries—the heroine I’m introducing in Chapter One is about to get tossed into new emotional whirlpool that’s going to change her world. Someone she loves has been murdered and despite her pain and grief, she needs to step up and find the murderer.
In FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER’s first chapter, I show Fanny’s internal and external conflicts, her desires, and some of the strengths that will get her through her hard journey.
Finally, what I’ve found out from years of writing fiction (and reading first chapters from other writers): Your first chapter can never be finished until the entire book has been written. I try to not fall in love with my first chapter until I’m in love with the entire novel.”
Whether the story arc is a enemies-to-lovers trope or a from-the-other-side-of-the-tracks trope, the writer needs to set up a situation where you WANT the characters to be together.
In the first chapter of A LADY’S REVENGE is the “Meet-Cute,” where John Arthur, a former prizefighter, basically accosts Lady Lydia, a society fixture. He believes she can help him legitimize his new-found fortune, and pave the way for a good marriage for his younger sister, Pearl. But, in his bumbling ignorance, he goes about trying to gain an introduction in the worst way: he does it himself. On the street.
By doing this, I attempted to set up signals for my reader: that John Arthur is, in the new parlance, a “try-hard.” He will do anything for his goals, and he views himself as a caretaker. As for Lady Lydia, I tried to establish that while she navigates Society well, she flouts the rules when it suits her. John Arthur’s clumsy attentions initially horrify her, but she hears him out, setting up that she will also explore ideas that are non-conformist, and sees herself as uniquely positioned to see that the moral right is not the same as the lawful right.
In their interaction, John Arthur keeps trying to touch Lady Lydia—on the arm, grabbing her to keep her from moving away from him. This produces what may seem to the reader to be an outsized reaction—a clue to the secret that Lady Lydia holds—but also shows that John Arthur is physically interested in her at the same time.
When Lady Lydia steps into the street to try to calm a horse, it shows that she has compassion and softness underneath a tough exterior. John Arthur, saving her from the charging horse, shows that he is going to protect Lady Lydia, too. The physical nature of the encounter provides the inkling of sexual tension that I hope is clear throughout the book.”
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s latest historical mystery is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, which features murder, mayhem, and music in 1919 San Francisco. Her award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans.