Lesson From an Aspiring Author: Chapter One

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I am two years into my amateur writing career. It’s been that amount of time since I began to publish this blog. Since then I have written a completed manuscript, started on several new stories, had two short stories and a poem published in small publications, joined an online critique group, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and received critical feedback from two published authors on Works-in-Progress.

My aspiration is to become a published author. Ideally I want to be published via the traditional route, but I am not completely opposed to self publishing (after I’ve given the traditional publishing industry a try.)

Two years into this writing gig I can look back and see how much I’ve grown. When I sat down to craft my first post I had no idea the road that would lie ahead and the people that would become a part of my story. I’ve learned so much about writing and I’ve gained wisdom beyond measure from successful authors.

That’s why I’ve decided to start this new writing series.

In the past, I’ve gone through a book with you on Saturday mornings. I’ve delved into chapters of books written by professionals and established my own writing voice as a result.

In this new series, Lessons from an Aspiring Author, ย I want to start to share parts of my journey with you as I reflect on where I’ve been on this great charge to write books.

Today I’m starting with some HUGE advice when it comes to starting a new book.

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Chapter One

I was surrounded by strangers. I stuck out like a sore thumb as everyone else in the room seemed to be well acquainted. There were people with published books surrounding me. I couldn’t recall ever feeling more out of place than in this moment.

Then it was my turn.

All the eyes shifted my way as I was asked to join a group of others in a small circle. I joined them and handed them copies of my first chapter. One by one they started to read. The silence was deafening as I tried to interpret their facial expressions for any signs of approval.

Once they had all read the chapter, the published author within the group started off the critique, “This is a good first chapter, BUT…”

I took out a pen and soaked up her wisdom like a sponge.

Of all the things I’ve learned about the first chapter of a book one of the most important is that the first chapter should leave your reader with questions. Don’t try to give them all the answers they will need from chapter one. Make them curious. Make them intrigued. Give them enough of a glimpse into the life of your character without telling them the whole story outright.

Example excerpt from my critiqued piece: “They say that the day I was born was a tragedy. Not because I took my first breath, but because so many took their last. Fourteen years ago a group of angry men stormed into Times Square armed with their faulty religion and began to open fire on the tourists. Amongst the innocents was my Uncle Mark.”

Now, although when I sat down to start a new story it was necessary for me to know this information about my setting, it is not important for the reader to be given this knowledge on the first page. Think about The Hunger Games.ย Chapter One of this book opens with Katniss waking up on the morning when the tributes would be selected. Suzanne Collins doesn’t spoil the story in the first chapter telling you the history behind the thirteen districts. She tells you enough so that as a reader you can understand that Katniss’ world is different from ours, but she waits to reveal the details until you have already forged a connection to Katniss as a reader.

The focus of the first chapter is to introduce your character in a way that intrigues your reader. Introduce clues to the larger problem they will face, but refrain from giving the big conflicts away too soon. Let your reader get to know your character and focus on that as you venture through the first portion of the book.

The Ameri Brit Mom

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