What do people want from a first chapter?

I asked members of the writing group what they want from the first chapter in a novel.

Here is a selection of the answers:-


I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.


Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.


The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.

Here’s a list of things other people said they are looking for in a first chapter:-

  • Being immediately immersed in a scene
  • Beautiful language
  • A character in conflict
  • An original voice
  • An engaging, welcoming voice
  • A likeable character
  • A feeling of forward momentum
  • Empathy and/or sympathy
  • Believability
  • Questions that need answering

Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel

  • Being confused
  • Incorrect grammar/spelling
  • Small, dense text in an unattractive font
  • A lack of originality
  • A setting we can’t identify with
  • Too much backstory
  • Cliché

What about you? What are you looking for in a first chapter?

Join the Suffolk Writers Group Facebook Page to take part in this and similar discussions.

First Chapter Creative Writing Course

Live on Zoom, ten sessions, small group, one-to-one feedback by email

In Summer 2021 I’ll be running a course to support people with writing and editing their first chapter. Email me if you want to go on the mailing list for that or any of the poetry or short story writing courses.


Members of Suffolk Writing Group 2020

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