Editing · First Chapters · Reading · Writing

First Chapter Pet Peeves

As an editor and a literary agency reader I read a lot of first chapters. Like A LOT. I’ve blogged about types of openings to avoid before. There are a few openings and issues I spot in first chapters all the time that instantly turn me off a book because I see them so often and they simply don’t grab my attention.  I’m going to tell you some of my first chapter pet peeves and exactly why they don’t work for me.

Starting a story with a character waking up. I see this way, way too often. Usually when I see it the character is waking from a dream or their phone wakes them up in the middle of the night. This opening doesn’t work for me because A) I’ve seen it so often it has become cliche, and B) it doesn’t grab my attention. I want to get to know your characters right away.  Start me with something more unique to them and their story and not something that could be used for any character. Similar to this beginning is starting with a character’s daily routine. It isn’t attention grabbing. Continue reading “First Chapter Pet Peeves”

Editing · First Chapters · Writing

When Opening Chapters Have No Teeth

Between the slush and my own editing I’ve seen a lot of first chapters. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of first chapters. I often notice similar issues over and over again and find myself giving out the same advice in first chapter critiques and edits. Two of these issues specifically, a lack of stakes and a hook, I came across in a book I borrowed from the library. If you are a writer who struggles to understand issues like stakes without examples then read on because you are about to get some specific examples. I’m going to to discuss two common issues I spot in opening chapters with a few bonus problems and I’m going to be very candid with you. The book I’m using as an example is a young adult magical realism contemporary, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.


As a warning I quit reading after the first two chapters to get some other reading done and haven’t picked the book back up yet, so I have no idea of what happens after the first two chapters (yet). On Goodreads the book only has a rating of 3.2 and a lot of reviews complaining about it being “meh” or “boring.” Many called it “strange” and “odd” despite the great concept that has a magical realism touch to it. I’m always curious to read reviews of books after I finish to see what other people thought. Let me tell you exactly why the book got reviewed as meh and boring at the start so you can avoid making the same mistake. First let me be clear this book wasn’t rated low because the writing or story is bad, the book just needs some more reworking and polishing to have a wider appeal and the issues I’ve brought up are ones I see all the time, which is why I wanted to make this post. I find it hard to discuss common issues without examples, and this book provides some perfect examples for me to discuss. Continue reading “When Opening Chapters Have No Teeth”

Editing · First Chapters · Writing

A Story Opener to Avoid

Recently on Twitter I posted a link to a blog series by literary agent Kristin Nelson talking about nine book openings to avoid. You can find that series here and I suggest giving it a read, especially if you struggle to find the right spot to start your book. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Kristin said in the series as an editor and reader. Continue reading “A Story Opener to Avoid”

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. Continue reading “Common Issues With First Chapters”

Editing · First Chapters · Writing

First Chapter Tips: Tension

When it comes to first chapters, there are some issues I see more often than others. Admittedly, I personally find writing my own first chapters super hard. I can’t include all the issues I’ve seen or this would be way too long. So I’m going to focus on tension and I’ll talk about other issues in other posts. Think of your first chapter as a reader’s gateway into your story. You need a strong, clear beginning that gives readers something they are dying to know more about. Tension will help keep your readers from getting bored. If done right, tension will keep them reading past your first chapter. Continue reading “First Chapter Tips: Tension”