The Evolution of My First Chapter


December 15, 2013 by Ifeoma Dennis

I think this merits a post simply because I’ve written my first chapter about thirty times. Or forty. Or sixty. I’m sure they’d make a YA novel when compiled together, since most of them run between 2K-3k words.

Today, yes today, after re-writing my first chapter AGAIN, something I never thought I’d do again (because hello, it’s my second draft and I’ve rewritten this sucker ten million times already), I decided to post on the breakdown of my chapters and why they weren’t working.

I went through some of my first chapters right from the very beginning (February, 2013). I won’t bore you with all the minute details of every first chapter I’ve written, just the broad view. Since some of them were alliterations of their predecessor.

Usually, it was their first pages that plagued me, but the disease already seeped in to ruin the rest of the chapter since they follow the events on the first page.

Here we go:


1st ever try:

MC is at dinner with other characters, and the supporting character/LI is looking at her. (Oh hey I also found what they looked like just last night and pinned them here). This opening didn’t work for me because it was in first person present and I didn’t feel the POV was working for this novel. I’d written my first novel (December 2012) in first person present.


2nd try:

Same scene but close 3rd POV. Didn’t work because oh, many characters! And the decision they made at the table which was supposed to lead to inciting incident didn’t sit right with me. Took me a few more tries to discover this had to be changed, and a MAJOR plot overhaul needed to happen to make it possible.


3rd try:

Revamped plot. MC is now in a bus and sees something odd. Scraped it, bus openings were cliché. But of course, didn’t realize this until I’d tried different versions of what happens in the bus. Matter of fact, I think it was my first CP, Stephanie that pointed out nothing was happening.


4th try:

MC is now running, trying to catch up with a friend that was acting odd. Also didn’t realize how cliché this was until I’d written it in different versions. Versions like:

  1. The bus stops, MC leaves to follow odd-acting friend and find what’s wrong, her other friends call her back.
  2. Bus is parked, and MC is running after her friend. Her friends don’t even notice she’s gone.
  3. MC has caught up with her friend and now they’re staring at a mad man across the road. ETC ETC.


5th try:

MC and odd-acting friend PLUS LI/Supporting character are standing on a deserted street. Mad man goes in and blows up a house. This one had many versions than I can possibly count. SCRAPED it because a baby died and it was my MC connecting to the baby that drove the plot. I wasn’t comfortable with it. I did talk about it here.


6th try:

Took my three opening-page characters off the street and back to the sitting room. Then they go to the street where a couple dies. Felt a bit slow.


7th try:

Opens straight in the street where the couple shoot themselves, instead of starting in the sitting room. Tried to have this one work but again, Stephanie said she wasn’t connecting with the emotions inspiring the inciting incident.


8th try:

Reworked street scene to try to show more emotions on the part of MC. Yael said it was too info-dumpey. I agreed. So I dumped the whole scene instead.


9th try:

Finished first draft. Let it sit for a while, then a major plot overhaul happened. Like MAJOR. Moved the inciting incident totally from the first universe to the second universe. This time around, it started with a prologue. Or a sort of prologue. MY MC’s mom was seeing her off. Cat liked it, but I had a problem with it being a prologue. Also, it felt like her mom was piling up the rules for her (and hence, the reader).


10th try:

Started more in media res, this time my characters are playing a sort of game in the sitting room. Cat loved this so much even more than the 9th, and Yael did too (but she had issues with the particular game they were playing). So I scraped it after I realized working on it only made it get worse.


11th major try:

MC and friends are in the forest. I didn’t realize how common this opening was. Scraped again. Showed no one.


12th try:

MC and friends moved back to the terrace where something odd happens. Scraped it TODAY after holding on to it since the start of Nano. There are just too many characters (five!) and I felt I was trying to load too much information on the reader just so they could get the stakes. Spike read this, said it wasn’t info-dumpey but said I had a problem with REPETITION.

Worked on that, but after the muse for tying up plot ends struck me last week, I realized the reason for having five characters in the scene was no longer necessary. I’d try to intersperse them within the first three chapters, and hopefully the message would come across.


13th try (today):

MC and original odd-acting friend are out when something happens. I know. This might change again. We’ll see how this works. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Like seriously.


How many times have you written your first chapter? Why weren’t they working for you? Did you struggle with clichés?


14 thoughts on “The Evolution of My First Chapter

  1. I’ve only written my first chapter once, but I did go back and add a prologue after my sister said I needed to foreshadow the inciting event in chapter 1. But I really REALLY don’t like my first chapter, and I don’t like the fact that its relying on a prologue. I feel like there’s too much exposition. It takes eight pages or so for the story to get even remotely interesting, and I’m afraid my readers will drop the book by that point. But I’ve had four people (yourself included) who have read it and say that it’s fine the way it stands, so I’m not sure if I should just leave it alone.

    I LOVE this post Ify. Your process of trying to write your first chapter sounds like the exact kind of insanity all of us writers deal with, but never want to admit.

    • Haha! I thought I was the only one dealing with this particular kind of insanity. 😉

      I personally don’t like stories that start right in the middle of an explosion, literally speaking 😀 Yours starts off really great and I still remember all the teenage-flowery language you used in those early pages. They were so magical. So YES, that first chapter is staying!

  2. Cheyenne says:

    I can so relate to this — thank you for sharing it!!

    For one of my MSs, the opening scene has remained the same since I started writing it over 6 years ago: in a bar before the MC’s boyfriend’s band performs a song dedicated to her. It fits the story and it’s just when things start to kick off, plot-wise. But man oh man, since this was my first MS ever, I saved it each time in Scrivener that I made any changes. I had over 50 saved versions. Sometimes tweaks were small, sometimes the entire thing was rewritten from scratch.

    I’m finally happy with it now, but I am *so* there with you. For me, it was that first and second paragraph. I spent so long thinking the only way to introduce the character’s dilemma was to have her internalising her thoughts about her current situation. I did this in every cutesy, cliche way possible, but then when I stopped berating myself, I realised I *could* be in her head from the start, but I needed her to be thinking about *right now*, not what happened last March or 3 years ago. Sometimes, though, these lessons mean more when they go the scenic route 😉 Good luck with this, I’m SURE you’ll nail it!! 🙂

  3. krystal jane says:

    Wow, you’re not kidding! I can’t believe you remember all that! Although, I’m sure I might if it were me. Lol! You can do this, I know you can.

    I usually can’t start a story until I have the right opening. Sometimes I run them by my brother. Lol! And I will literally obsess about it for close to a week until I have something I think will work. And then I have to plot out the next few chapters to make sure it’s the right decision. I read somewhere once that it’s best to start in the middle of the story. Not literally I guess, but just the furthest in you can get without people being lost. My current opening is one of the best I’ve ever had. I start the night stuff falls apart for my MC, which takes place 3 months before the rest of the story, so I skip time, but it sets everything up, and I got really good feedback on it. Now I just need to not ruin the rest of it!

    Pinterest is awesome, isn’t it! ^_^

    • I think my problem with my first chapter was the inciting incident. I just couldn’t pick one I loved. I found that one I think that fits a few days back, but it means I’ll have to work harder for the rest of my story to keep the game up. 😉

  4. The opening can be the hardest part to get right. I always spend more time editing the first couple of chapters than any other part of the book! But strangely, I don’t usually change the location or scenario – I think it’s because I can’t actually start writing until I’ve pinned down whereabouts it has to start. In fact, having that opening scene clear in my head was what gave me the clue that I should starting this WIP! I don’t think I could have done it without it. I’m still not sure I’ve got it right, though!

    • You’re sooo lucky, Emma!
      I usually think I have the opening scene clear before starting but by the time I get to the third chapter, I start questioning the wisdom of it.

      But the excerpt you shared for your post-apocalyptic ROCKS, so I think you’re fine!

  5. Oh, THANK YOU for admitting this in such detail! I am glad I’m not the only one. I’ve scrapped the entire first three chapters–but writing them did seem to help with understanding my MC.

  6. amandashayne says:

    I am so proud of you for sticking with it and rewriting it so many times. I haven’t rewritten mine at all yet (though I know it needs rewritten). In 1st draft it took place in a school parking lot instead of a much more interesting option that I had. Now my idea is to move it to the festival that MC only mentions in first draft but never went to because… I guess I was taking the easy way out, like I seem to have done with the whole first draft. Anyway, in brainstorming, I’ve come up with at least ten different opening paragraphs, but I haven’t brainstormed much in terms of different locations and plot points. I have a LOT of brainstorming to do!

    Thanks for sharing this. I have no doubt that you’ll find that perfect opening. You’ve put so much work into it, and I can’t wait to see the final product!!

    • Thanks for your good wishes, Amanda! Right back at you!! ❤

      I'm guilty of taking the easy way out too…and sometimes, it seems I'm afraid of thinking up complicated things for my plot. Like I can't handle it or something. But we'd conquer! We MUST.

      Starting at a festival seems like fun! You could try it. But again, I know whatever you come up with this time would be great! 😀 Still ooohing-and-ahhing over that excerpt yesterday! *lovestruck*

      Can't wait for when you finish DD!! Someday soon, I pray. *angel smiley*

  7. Sarah L Fox says:

    I don’t even know how many times I’ve rewritten the opening for my current wip. First I had a prologue. Then I had an info-dump-filled opening written from the female MC’s pov. I rewrote that version a few times before I finally switched it to the male MC’s pov. That’s where I am now but one of my CP’s thinks it needs to be slowed down just a little. So I haven’t quite found that balance between info-dump and too fast into the action. Sigh. Openings are the toughest part for me!

    • Same here! They are the TOUGHEST, TOUGHEST.
      I guess it comes from knowing it’s our readers’ first impression of our work (plus all the rules out there to follow and to avoid) and it makes us all nervous!

      I hope you find the opening that’s right for you!!
      Right now, I started mine a bit slow…not sure I’ve found the right balance…but I’m trying to stay out of info-dumping (something I’m soooo guilty of) and see how it goes.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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"Dreams can get you through anything."

-Cat York


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First Draft:

93210 / 90000 words. 104% done!

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