How to Write a Strong Opening Chapter

The opening chapter is arguably one of the most important, and often re-written, chapters in an author’s novel. Even J. K. Rowling struggled with her first chapter. Rumour has it, she rewrote the first chapter of the Philosopher’s Stone a whopping 15 times before she was happy with it.

The Writer Community knows how important it is to hook your reader from the very start, so we have dedicated this blog post to helping you write an interesting opening chapter.

There are tons of ways you can start your novel, but they almost all boil down to three main categories:

  1. In the middle of conversation

  2. In the middle of the action

  3. With world building/ backstory

Depending on how you write them, each of these categories can make or break your opening chapter, let’s look closer at each one:

In the middle of conversation

Starting in the middle of dialogue can be effective when done well. It catches the reader off guard and instantly piques their interest, making them want to read on. A word of warning though, it can be one of the hardest openings to execute properly.

When opening on dialogue, you need to make sure that what is being said is significant, hints at the story’s theme or conflict, and has context immediately after it. I would recommend a short line of snappy, strong dialogue followed by context around who has said it and where they are. If the dialogue is pointless or if you launch right into the story with no context, it is likely the reader will become either bored or confused. In both scenarios, you will lose the reader before they finish the first chapter.

In the middle of the action

Starting in the middle of the action, otherwise known as ‘in media res’ is one of the most popular ways to open a novel. The reason it is so popular is that it launches the reader right into the story, grabbing the reader with excitement and intrigue right from the start. It also causes the reader to ask questions: Who is this? What are they doing? And the desire to see those questions answered is what keeps the reader engaged and reading on.

When starting in media res, it is important to make sure that the moment you choose is crucial to the plot, and that it is an exciting action filled event. You want the reader to be curious, not just about what is going on, but also what led up to that point in the story. Not only that, you want the reader to care about what is happening and why. It is a fine balance between action and information, and you need to avoid info dumping in that first chapter. Instead, pepper the backstory throughout the action to give the reader the context they need to care about the characters.

One word of caution with starting in the middle of the action. In your novel you need to be constantly raising the stakes and building towards a climax. For this reason it is important that the first chapter of your novel is just the start of the action, not the most exciting event in the book. Most writers when they think action, think of an epic battle scene or something just as dramatic, but starting in media res could be as simple as a woman bursting into a coffee shop to order coffee before she is late for her meeting. Because at the meeting she expects to be promoted, and if she is promoted then she will be able to attend a work conference that will change her career… You see how the story builds from that first scene? Keep this in mind as you write your first chapter and ensure you always up the stakes.

With world building or backst