Editing · First Chapters · Writing

Common Issues With First Chapters

I’ve been making a list of issues I often spot in first chapters while I’m editing. I just ironed some of these issues out of my own WIP’s first chapter. If something is on this list, I’ve seen it quite a few times. Some of these will have their own future posts devoted to them. If I spot other issues enough, I might do a part two to this. Use this list to look for possible issues in your own first chapter. If you have an issue with the last three in your first chapter, you will want to check the rest of your manuscript because odds are those issues exist throughout your story.

Lack of Tension: I already did a post on how to fix this issue here First Chapter Tips: Tension for those who want to read more about it. This issue can make or break a first chapter ending (in my picky opinion). Tension sucks your reader into the issues and stakes at hand and keeps them reading to find out more about them. Having enough tension will leave your readers begging for more once they hit the end of the chapter and leave a much bigger impression than chapters lacking tension. Michael Mammay mentioned this being one of the common issues he saw in his 2016 Pitch Wars submissions.

Starting in the wrong spot: This will definitely have it’s own future post. This can also tie into tension issues. You need to start in the right spot of a story to get the ball rolling. You don’t want a boring beginning or to thrust the reader into an action scene that confuses them because they don’t know anyone or what’s going on. If you start with a prologue, make sure it adds to the story and isn’t being used to slip in backstory that could be sprinkled throughout instead.

Info dumps: Make sure you don’t overwhelm your readers with too much information or backstory. Too much can slow the pacing. Find ways to sprinkle info in and make learning the backstory interesting. Make sure you don’t do this by having a character tell another character it all, when the character being told probably already knows. Make the information reveal feel natural. You don’t need to shove all the backstory in at once. Pace the reveals. On the other side of this, we need to know enough about your world and characters to understand what is going on.

Passive voice: Too much passive voice weakens writing. Changing as much passive voice to active as possible will strengthen your prose and help keep readers’ attention. This prevents you from overusing words like “was” until readers get sick of seeing it. Active voice can also be clearer and more concise than passive voice.

Too many adverbs: Use as few adverbs as possible. They can turn into crutch and filler words that aren’t needed. Some of them do serve a purpose and work well, so don’t worry about cutting every single adverb out.

Crutch and filler words: These just add a whole lot of unneeded words to your manuscript. Use something like Edit Minion or other writing/editing software to highlight how often you use certain words to spot them. Once you figure out what your crutch and filler words are, get rid of as many as possible and keep an eye on them in future writing. Common crutch words include that, seems, really, very, suddenly, and then. There are many others and every author develops specific crutch words they lean on.

If anyone has spotted anything else recently, let me know! The issue could wind up in another post. If anyone would like to share how they deal with any of these issues, do so! You might help your fellow writers out.



One thought on “Common Issues With First Chapters

  1. Oh, my goodness, yes. I do hate info dumps! Dialogue is one way to share backstory, but even that can be overdone. Roll out just enough to tempt the reader. Don’t answer all the questions in the first chapter. Reel ’em in little by little!

    Liked by 1 person

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