We all know the importance of starting our stories strong: Without a beginning that draws the readers in (whether those readers are agents, editors or bookstore browsers), they may never make it to the middle.
When we’ve shipped out an issue that instantly resonates, we can always spot the signs from our subscribers on social media. Here’s a glimpse of the warm reception our "Write a Standout Chapter 1!" issue was receiving (for both the feature package and stellar cover author Lisa Gardner) even before it hit newsstands.
The last comment (which, by the way, made my day) is in reference to a Chapter 1 metaphor in my editor’s letter, so I thought I’d also share it below to further give this issue a proper introduction:
Setting Your Story in Motion
To you, it probably would have looked ordinary. But to me, it was miraculous.
The laundry basket was positioned on the love seat as a makeshift basketball hoop. My 2-year-old daughter had joined my 4-year-old son in a giggly yet remarkably civilized game of taking a shot, running to where my husband and I were sitting on the couch to distribute high fives, and then retrieving the ball to do it all again. For the first time I could remember, she didn’t call out to us to lift her so she could get closer to the “net.” No one pushed or went out of turn. Both kids played happily, on their own, for the better part of an hour while we watched. I waited for the moment I’d need to intervene, but it never came.
If you nurture your Chapter 1 from birth, if you lay the groundwork for free play and good behavior, you may find that one day, the same happens with your story: You’ve put it into motion, and now it’s happily moving forward with a momentum of its own, making you proud. It might look effortless to your readers—in fact, done well, it probably should—but you’ll think back to those early sleepless nights when every word was an unknown, and you’ll know better.
- “The Chain of Awesomeness” by longtime novelist Jeff Somers unpacks what really makes a great first line, paragraph, page and onward, complete with plenty of examples from successful books.
- “Backstory From the Front” by The Art of Character author David Corbett delves into perhaps the No. 1 warning we’ve heard about our opening pages—Don’t load them with too much backstory!—in really looking at when and how we can introduce and paint fully realized characters effectively.
- “Countdown to a Great Chapter 1,” by Gabriela Perieria (author of the new writing guide DIY MFA) highlights essential dos and don’ts for preparing your story for takeoff.
- And “Story Jump-Starts” is a compilation piece for anyone struggling with the best way to translate ideas or sparks of inspiration into the beginning of something wonderful.
In this issue’s WD Interview, bestselling suspense novelist Lisa Gardner talks about how the secret of good writing can have everything to do with rewriting. (And that's just one of many gems from Gardner. Take a peek now at the full intro to our WD Interview With Lisa Gardner, highlighting her inspiring career to date, alongside some bonus interview outtakes!) So take heart that we have ample chances to improve the starts of our stories—and that if we take the time to get our most crucial of chapters right, our readers may reward us by riding along to the satisfying end.
Find the guidance and inspiration you need for your own opening chapters in the July/August 2016 Writer’s Digest, now on your favorite bookstore or library newsstand and available for instant download.
Learn more about my debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, forthcoming from St. Martin's Press in March 2017.