How to write the first three chapters of your novel (with/ without prologue)

by Abida
(England)

Hello, for a project of mine (genre- young adult supernatural) I have to write the first three chapters of a novel. I've only ever been a short story writer and I find that if I do not add a lot in the first few chapters my stories either don't make sense and mostly they aren't interesting enough. But I've also realized they do the exact same thing the other way around. How can I rectify this? I've been told that the first few chapters focus more on character, mood and setting rather than plot, but I have zero inspiration for this. It just seems too slow for the impatient fast, abstract plotting of my mind. I've been told by some who read my story that they can't wrap their minds around the story and I need to slow down. But I find that incredibly difficult because if and when I do my stories become cliche (I add a snippet of the mc's tragic past rather than adding anything normal or I make them cynical) and quite frankly boring to me (I make them go through tedious school hours and homework), I can only imagine what torture my test-readers would go through.


I would very much appreciate some help.

Answer: If the opening chapters of your story seem boring and tedious to you, they will probably seem that way to the reader. Also, you will have a hard time writing a lengthy story that seems dull to you. Though I haven't seen your work, it sounds like you should trust your instincts on this one.

One of the worst pieces of writing advice you will often see is that a novel should begin with an "ordinary day" in the life of the main character.

The trouble is that most people's "ordinary days" are boring. And a boring first chapter is the kiss of death, since no agent or editor will read a dull first chapter without tossing the manuscript in the reject pile.

It is true that you want the reader to connect with your main character right away, but there are lots of ways to do this without being boring. You might...

1. Show the main character coping with a problem in their life in their own unique way (thus establishing who they are when the story begins). The best way to reveal a character is to show how they react under pressure.

2. Introduce a key secondary character. For instance, you might show the first time that the impact character walks into the main character's life. Let the main character see the other person handling a problem in a way that is totally foreign to the main character.

3. Establish a key relationship. You might have an event that forces the main and impact characters to interact or bond for the first time, or that establishes their relationship when the story opens. Again, let them bond over a challenge.

4. Present the inciting incident or initial driver of the story (provided the main character is present when it happens).

In other words, open with an event -- a significant change in the life of at least one character. (Recognizing that a change can be internal as well as external.)

This doesn't necessarily mean action (though it could). You could show the character making an important decision or coming to an important realization. What matters is that something happens in the first chapter that makes the reader wonder what will happen next as a result. It should clearly have the potential to set a chain of events in motion.

You can fill the reader in on the character's backstory as needed -- or perhaps in the next chapter, after you have them hooked.

Genre makes a difference too. Readers of hard boiled detective fiction have different expectations than readers of romance or coming of age stories.

But if you're in any doubt, I suggest you grab copies of some of the best books in your genre and look at their first chapters. I'm guessing you will find they contain significant turning points.

Other things you can do...

5. Create mystery or suspense. You can draw the reader into the story by having something happen that isn't adequately explained, so they must keep reading to get answers, or by making them wonder what will happen next.

6. Creating an interesting narrative voice. Some readers can be charmed into reading by a unique personality. But this works best when there's also a plot.

Of course (again because I haven't seen your work), it is possible that you are focusing so much on plot that the reader does not feel they are connecting with the main character. This is a possible explanation for the comments. But you can develop that connection using some of the methods I mention above.

Again, take a look at some good first chapters. I think you will see what I mean.

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