First Chapters

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I did my best to shake the feeling. We had other problems to deal with. Besides, we were going to Camp Jupiter—friendly territory on this side of the bay. I had Meg for backup. I was driving a hearse. What could possibly go wrong? The Nimitz Freeway snaked through the East Bay flatlands, past warehouses and docklands, strip malls and rows of dilapidated bungalows.

To our right rose downtown Oakland, its small cluster of high-rises facing off against its cooler neighbor San Francisco across the Bay as if to proclaim We are Oakland! We exist, too! Meg reclined in her seat, propped her red high-tops up on the dashboard, and cracked open her window. The abandoned warehouses? Plants flowering. Moisture in the air. The eucalyptus smells good. Our time in Southern California had been marked by scorching temperatures, extreme drought, and raging wild res—all thanks to the magical Burning Maze controlled by Caligula and his hate-crazed sorceress bestie, Medea.

Not at the moment, anyway. But Caligula was still very much alive. He and his co- emperors in the Triumvirate were still intent on controlling all means of prophecy, taking over the world, and writing the future in their own sadistic image. Even if we somehow managed to defeat the Triumvirate, there was still that greatest Oracle, Delphi, under the control of my old nemesis Python.

How I could defeat him in my present form as a sixteen-year-old weakling, I had no idea. Traf c slowed at the I interchange. Meg toyed with her window controls, raising and lower- ing the glass. But I know the Caldecott Tunnel is the main entrance. Perhaps a Demigods Only lane.

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Meg peered at me over the top of her glasses. We turned west onto Highway The congestion eased as the hills loomed closer. The elevated lanes soared past neighborhoods of winding streets and tall conifers, white stucco houses clinging to the sides of grassy ravines. That should have comforted me. Something was wrong. I glanced in the rearview mirror. Above my head, two foot-shaped impressions appeared in the upholstered ceiling.

That was an annoyingly fair question. The footprint impressions deepened as the thing adjusted its weight like a surfer on a board. It must have been immensely heavy to sink into the metal roof. A whimper bubbled in my throat. My hands trembled on the steering wheel. DWSPW, driving while shooting projectile weapons, is a big no-no, kids.

Before I could explain that this was a terrible idea while traveling fifty miles an hour on a highway, I heard a sound like a pop-top aluminum can opening—the crisp pneumatic hiss of air through metal. A claw punctured the ceiling—a grimy white talon the size of a drill bit. Then another. And another. And another, until the upholstery was studded with ten pointy white spikes—just the right number for two very large hands.

Protect me? Kill that thing? Check in the back to see if I have any spare undies? Staring down at me through the ragged hole was a withered, ghoulish humanoid, its blue-black hide glistening like the skin of a house y, its eyes filmy white orbs, its bared teeth dripping saliva. Around its torso uttered a loincloth of greasy black feathers. I was bound to obey her direct commands.

The hearse handled beautifully. It careened across three lanes of traffic, barreled straight through the guardrail, and plummeted into the canyon below. As the hearse achieved zero gravity, I had a few microseconds to appreciate the scenery below—a lovely little lake edged with eucalyptus trees and walking trails, a small beach on the far shore, where a cluster of evening picnickers relaxed on blankets. Oh, good , some small part of my brain thought. My hands glued themselves to the wheel. As we plunged into the eucalypti, the ghoul disappeared from our roof—almost as if the tree branches had purposefully swatted him away.

Other branches seemed to bend around the hearse, slowing our fall, dropping us from one leafy cough-drop-scented bough to another, until we hit the ground on all four wheels with a jarring thud. Too late to do any good, the airbags deployed, shoving my head against the backrest. Yellow amoebas danced in my eyes. The taste of blood stung my throat. I clawed for the door handle, squeezed my way out between the airbag and the seat, and tumbled onto a bed of cool soft grass.

I heard Meg retching somewhere nearby. At least that meant she was still alive. About ten feet to my left, water lapped at the shore of the lake. Directly above me, near the top of the largest eucalyptus tree, our ghoulish blueblack friend was snarling and writhing, trapped in a cage of branches. I struggled to sit up. I agree that the first chapter is very important, perhaps more so in commercial or genre fiction. I love both the authors you used in your examples.

I'm working on rewriting my first chapter now so this is particularly helpful for me. THis is a very inspiring post- Chapter One as a promise to the reader is a great ideal to emulate. Thank you for this. I have heard it before, but never put in a way that makes so much sense to me. I'm going to look at my first chapter with fresh eyes tonight. First chapters are important because they are the first impression agents and editors get of your work. These are busy people, they are culling a huge volume of submissions, and they're looking for an excuse to stop reading yours.

From this fact, various myths about first chapters emerge. For example, the idea that one must start with or in the middle of an action sequence is pervasive and wrong. It's a mutation of the adage that something must happen in those first pages as opposed to back-story, world-building and other exposition. Similarly, the idea that a first chapter can or should be markedly better-written or paced than the rest of the book is a canard. Every chapter should be your best work. Revising your first chapter should require much less time than making sure your middle section doesn't drag.

The hardest aspects of writing a novel are sustaining tension over an extended narrative, transitioning between plot-points, and providing necessary information and character development without bogging down in exposition. Compared to these challenges, first chapters are relatively easy. The purpose of a first chapter is generally to introduce a primary character and a problem that will drive the plot. So, if you know who and what your book is about, the first chapter is halfway written. Introducing protagonists is easier than introducing secondary characters, since you have much less time and space to spend developing the secondaries, and they still need to seem three-dimensional.

And introducing an initial motivating problem is much simpler than handling complications and twists later on. The reason agents feel comfortable rejecting you based on a first chapter is because a flawed first chapter indicates flawed writing throughout. But just because those first pages can knock you out, it doesn't mean they can get you in. If you stick a polished first chapter on a flawed manuscript, that's not going to get you an agent. Your narrative should be polished and engaging throughout. I can't tell you how timely this is- After attending a writer's conference last month all I took away from every single speaker and class session was the notion pounded into our heads, that not only the 1st chapter — but the first 3 pages-will make or break you.

Great post. The best advice I every got was start the story where there is a change in the main character's life. Thanks- good stuff. Are you going to write a post on how to write the all-important last chapter? That would be great. This is definitely a post I needed to read! My first chapter is a wonderfully romantic wedding scene but it doesn't bring up the main conflict quick enough.

My pace is too slow at the beginning, I think. Your email address will not be published. The first chapter is the last chapter in disguise. Subscribe to the blog! Receive the blog directly in your inbox when there are new posts! Subscribe for Free! Comments Great post! Great post — and really good points about the first chapter.

Book First Chapters

I especially like this advice. What a great post Valerie! Thank you. I need to go back and examine my first chapter. Wonderful advice as always Nathan; you're my hero! Sorry Nathan, I don't miss you at all with great posts like this one, ha ha. Thanks for all the kind comments! I'm so glad this post was helpful! This is really great advice! Enjoyed this Blog post very much. Great timing, too, as we are going to be talking beginnings on my writing Tweetchat, today Storycraft In Second year of Uni, I realized that if I wrote my non-fiction, of course essays straight through and then just swapped my original beginning and end I always got better marks.

I hope today is the day too! This is a really terrific post. Valerie, thank you so much for this. It is very helpful. Thanks again, Mervat. Or, maybe, just start over! This is a fantastic post! Especially since I'm writing my first chapter — again. I think you posted this blog just for me! Thank you! So many great pointers! Thanks and great post. Sheila Cull. I now have a new perspective and a higher level of appreciation for the first chapter. Ah, the first chapter… I have to be a bit of a masochist to get the first chapter right. This is what I need right now! The comparison to Hunger Games is very helpful too.

Mommy hands us our backpacks. She kneels in front of me. Her shaky fingers brush through my hair, then cup my cheek. I promise. She presses her lips to my forehead and keeps them there for the longest. She does the same to Trey, then straightens up. She gets in the car without answering me and cranks it up.

Tears stream down her cheeks. I saw her in the park a few months later, looking more like a red-eyed, scaly-skinned dragon than my mommy. I started calling her Jay after that—there was no way she was my mom anymore. It became my own habit that was hard to break. Still is. It took three years and a rehab stint for her to come back. Even though she was clean, some judge decided that she could only have me and Trey every other weekend and on some holidays.

Five years back with her, and yet I still dream about her leaving us. It hits me out of nowhere sometimes. She sighs and pushes up off the bed. Go ahead and get up. We need to have a little talk before you head to school. I forgot. I was floating after my battle, for real. Jay raises her eyebrows. Only Cs I wanna see are pictures of seas , the only Ds I better see are deez grades improving.

We clear? I get up, and almost immediately I wanna get back under my covers. That first feel of the chill in the air is always the hardest. Moving around helps. The ladies of hip-hop watch from the wall beside my bed. I figure if I wanna be a queen, queens should watch over me when I sleep. This happened to the other last week. I take a black Sharpie and go to work.

Ratchet, but I gotta do what I gotta do. Aunt Pooh buys my stock and lets me keep the profits. Shout-out to Michelle Obama. That health kick of hers made the school take the good stuff from the vending machines and made my business very lucrative. A horn blows outside. Watson, the bus driver. If his zombie ass pulls up in the bus one day, I am not climbing on board. A short yellow bus waits out front.

2: Begin with settings that convey tone and mood

Midtown-the-school is in Midtown-the-neighborhood, where people live in nice condos and expensive historic houses. A few years ago, they started busing students in from all over the city. So they send a short bus for us. Christmas is less than two weeks away, but Mr. Watson has been in the holiday spirit for months. For what, freezing your ass off? All the eleventh-grade dancers look exhausted these days.

Deon nods at me from his seat in the very back, his saxophone case propped up beside him. Dang, I got folks talking like that? I definitely had the Ring talking. I could barely get out of there last night without somebody telling me how dope I was. It was the first time I realized I can do this. You wake up from them or reality makes them seem stupid. Trust, every time my fridge is almost empty, all of my dreams seem stupid. The Garden passes by my window.

Older folks water their flowers or bring out their trash cans. A couple of cars blast music on high. Now I gotta worry about the cops too? Zane, a senior with a nose ring, gets on the bus. Aja the freshman saw it. She gives me props soon as she gets on. So do Keyona, Nevaeh, and Jabari, the sophomores. That little dig is from Curtis Brinkley, this short, wavy-haired, brown-skinned boy who puts a lot of lies on God, bruh.

In fifth grade, he claimed that Rihanna was his cousin and that his mom was on the road with her, working as her hairstylist. Really, his mom was in prison. She still is. I take off my snapback. My edges still need help, but I laid them as best as I could earlier. I put on some lip gloss, too. I notice way too much about him.

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Like he wants the name to only belong to him. All these feelings started when we were ten. I was the Rock and he was John Cena. We were obsessed with wrestling videos on YouTube. I pinned Malik down, and while sitting on top of him in his front yard, I suddenly wanted to kiss him. I was so weirded out by the whole thing. Best friend extraordinaire, Luke to my Leia. Yet here I am, using my phone to check my Pink Pursuit lip gloss who comes up with these names? Sonny dances down the aisle to a beat nobody hears.

Malik shrugs. Except when you just stood there that first round. Malik nods. They go back and forth, punching and swatting at each other. Totally normal. In fact, a Sonny and Malik fight is one of the few things guaranteed in life, right up there with death, taxes, and Kanye West rants.

His face lights up almost as bright as the screen. I only catch the heart-eyes emoji next to the name. I raise my eyebrows. When we were eleven, Sonny came out to me. We were watching Justin Bieber perform at some awards show. It was out of nowhere.

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  • There were little things here and there that made me wonder. How he acted around my brother—if Trey liked something, Sonny suddenly loved it; if Trey spoke to him, Sonny blushed; and if Trey got a girlfriend, Sonny acted like it was the end of the world. He told Malik not long after and asked if they could still be friends.

    The bus pulls up at an intersection, beside a cluster of bleary-eyed kids. Their breath turns to smoke around them as they wait for the bus to Garden High. School pride turns us into gangs. At Midtown you have to be great for anyone to notice you. Brilliant, actually.

    Who won that award for their writing or their art. Whose vocal range is the best. My grades are so-so. Nothing I do is enough. But he frowns. Gotta go to the lab and work on this documentary.

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    Welp, so much for my idea. See, Sonny and Malik have their groups at Midtown. Unfortunately for me, Sonny and Malik are my group. I just gotta get through one more year in this place. One more year of being quiet, unassuming Bri who stays to herself as her friends get their glow-ups. The whole situation shook him up. Then Shana, Deon, the three sophomores, Zane.

    I stroll through after him. Oh, shit. My candy stash. If they find it, I could get suspended for selling on campus. He reaches for my backpack strap, but I snatch it away. Everything happens in a blur.

    8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One

    He grabs my arm again and pulls it behind me. The other one goes behind me too. I try to yank and tug away, which only makes his grip tighter. Before I know it, my chest hits the ground first, then my face is pressed against the cold floor. He wraps plastic around my wrists and pulls it tight. My arms are tied behind me. Long dragged me in here and made me sit down a few minutes ago. She told her secretary, Ms. I stare straight ahead. The office has inspirational posters on every wall.

    You can only control the way that you react. Clark picks up her phone and dials. May I speak to Mrs. Jayda Jackson, please? Jay answers the phones at Christ Temple, so I expect Ms. Clark to go right into explaining the situation to her.

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    But she frowns. I see. Thank you. I tell Ms. About fifteen minutes later, the office door flies open, and Jay storms in. She kneels in front of me and looks me over, almost like she did when she came back from rehab. Now they examine every inch of me. She whirls around on the secretary. Rhodes appears in her doorway. Her glasses take up most of her face, and her curly red hair is in a bun. She was the principal back when Trey went here, too.

    I met her at his Freshman Welcome Night. He lumbers out and removes the little scissors hanging from a clip on his waist. They put Brianna on the floor. Rhodes takes a deep breath. I assure you that there will be an investigation and disciplinary action will take place if the administration sees fit.

    However, Brianna may have to face disciplinary action as well.

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    • Why did they come after my daughter in the first place? She turns to the principal. Rhodes, my son told me that the guards picked on certain kids more than others when he was here. Rhodes says so calmly, it pisses me off. The guards treat all of the students the same. Rhodes clears her throat. I was told she was argumentative and aggressive. All of them except Mrs. Murray, who happens to be my only black teacher. There was the time in history class during Black History Month.

      I asked Mr. His pale cheeks reddened. Fiction class. Burns was talking about the literary canon, and I rolled my eyes because all the books sounded boring as shit. I mumbled something under my breath on the way out, and she wrote me up for aggressive behavior. admin