Components of a Solid First Chapter ~ by S. Dionne Moore

Born and raised in Manassas, Virginia, S. Dionne Moore moved to Greencastle, PA in 1993, then to Mercersburg in 2008. Moore enjoys life in the historically rich Cumberland Valley where traffic jams are a thing of the past and there are only two stoplights in the whole town. Moore is author of the LaTisha Barnhart Mystery series as well as new historical romance release “A Heartbeat Away.”

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Components of a Solid First Chapter

When I judge contests the one element I want to see in an entry is
that hint of the character’s goal. I want to have evidence that we have a
destination. Whether that destination changes and shifts along the way is not
of concern, just let me know where the character is headed, and give a hint of
the conflict they’ll have to endure along the way, and I’ll pack my bags and
climb on board for the ride. But what I often find in my judging is that the
writer introduces a character and describes some surrounding, then the first
chapter is complete. 
           
When writing that all-important first chapter, there are elements
you want to include. You want to show the pull of emotions drawing the
character into a journey of self-discovery. A well prepared first chapter puts
the reader right into the head of the protagonist so that they can see what the
character sees, know what the character is thinking (intuitively), and want
what is best for them.
           
Expectation is foremost when a reader begins a book and the journey
to motive begins in chapter one. A character should not know exactly
what is wrong with them by the end of the first chapter, otherwise their
journey toward epiphany is greatly shortened and the reader has nothing to look
forward to. No expectations. Readers want to move with the character through a
fictitious journey full of hope, hurdles and, if romance, love, that will
ultimately end satisfactorily. 
           
Front-loaded backstory is a sign that the writer is still
fleshing out their characters and is often nothing more than a synopsis
disguised as a first chapter or, worse, a badly written prologue. Think of how
you would talk to someone you are first introduced to. Would you tell them
every terrible thing in your life? No, of course not. Some of us don’t even realize
the bad things from our childhood that have affected us so deeply until we are
far into adulthood.
It is the same in a fictional relationship. The main character will
not pour out their entire life’s story in the first chapter. Backstory is
essential only to allow you to better understand how your protagonist
should act and react in the situations you create. If adding backstory is
necessary to understand a character action or reaction, it should be very short
and to the point.
           
Writing a solid first chapter is not for the faint of heart. It’s
tough work. You need to have a strong idea of where the story and the
characters are heading and convey that to your readership in such a manner that
is both engaging and sympathetic. Not easy, I know. But work on it by planning
ahead. Know your characters before you start.
Understand who they are and what they want–give them a
personality!–then take it from there. Most of all, don’t be shy to ask someone
to read your chapter for you, or better yet, read it out loud to yourself!
You’ll be amazed at what you’ll catch, and hearing your story will tell you
whether the words and those clever turns-of-phrase you used really worked or
just muddled things up.
           
Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Don’t freeze up. Stop and
think. Get to know your character. Pound out a synopsis. It doesn’t have to be
detailed or long, but it should be a general idea of where the story is going.
Couple that synopsis with knowing your character as if they were a friend and
you will be well on your way to writing an exceptional first chapter that will
knock the socks off any judge!
A Heartbeat Away
When a band of runaway slaves brings Union-loyal Beth Bumgartner a wounded Confederate soldier named Joe, it is the catalyst that pushes her to defy her pacifist parents and become a nurse during the Battle of Antietam.

Her mother’s mysterious goodbye gift is filled with quilt blocks that bring comfort to Beth during the hard days and lonely nights, but as she sews each block, she realizes there is a hidden message of faith within the pattern that encourages and sustains her. Reunited with Joe, Beth learns his secret and puts the quilt’s message to its greatest test—but can betrayal be forgiven?