Writing: 6 Ways to Improve Your First Chapter

Everyone knows that the first chapter (or first few pages in a screenplay) is one of the most important things to get right. We know this as readers ourselves but also because it has been hammered into our heads by pretty much everyone in the creative writing industry.

There are countless articles about first-page mistakes and advice on what not to write, but today, I want to look at how you can improve your first page.

1.First line

The first lines of your masterpiece should be engaging and interesting. By interesting, I don’t mean you should write interestingly about weather or how someone looks. I mean, it is important to write something central to your story that is interesting.

Let’s look at a few examples from well-known works.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

After this first line, the book goes on to tell the love story of a headstrong girl and a wealthy man. The first line is interesting and reflects beautifully the story told after.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude recalls the story of a fictional family through generations until their complete destruction. Again, As you can see, the beauty of life and the end of life is presented in the book’s first line, which cohesively sums up the book’s main theme.

“My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973” Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones.

Can you guess what the book is about? Yes, a fourteen-year-old girl who is murdered.

“I am an invisible man.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible man

A book about a man disregarded by society.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, not yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or eat: it was a hobbit -hole, and that means comfort.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Tolkien’s first lines introduce hobbits (main characters) and emphasize the comfort they are accustomed to. Of course, the story is about the hobbits leaving their holes and comforts for great adventures.

These are all great examples; even though some completely reveal the entire story, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Just make sure your first lines are relevant to the story in some way, for example:

  • introducing the characters
  • reinforcing the theme
  • grab attention in a way that is relevant to the story
  • set up an expectation or red herring

Ultimately do what you like but try to remember that one of the responsibilities of a writer is not just to tell a story but to make it interesting enough so that people want to keep reading the story.

After all, a story unread is a story untold.


Moving on with the first pages of your work. Conflict is the only thing that makes stories worth telling. Nobody wants to read about a basic person doing basic things and never come across any trouble or conflict.

A story needs conflict. It needs obstacles. It needs contrast. These things draw the audience in and keep them turning the page (or watching the movie).

This does not mean that there has to be a big explosion or a tragedy that you introduce in the very beginning (unless you want to and it’s relevant to your story). Still, something should give the reader the feeling that something is not right, that reading further will be rewarded.


Always introduce only a few characters at a time. And this is especially true for the first pages when the reader is still just getting into the story. The last thing you want to do is confuse the reader by flooding the page with different names they must try to remember without any deep connection to the story told so far.

Introduce characters sporadically along the way to give them enough space to become important to the reader. If your reader doesn’t care about what happens to your characters, then you might as well not write the story at all.

4.Everything must matter

Everything you write in your first pages (and the entire work) must matter to the story and theme. If you start your story by describing normal everyday events like cooking breakfast or waking up, that’s fine, BUT you must say something deeper with your description.

For example, if you are opening with your character waking up in bed, show the reader she is waking up alone in bed (maybe she is a widow or recently divorced) and, in this way, already give the reader relevant information to the story.

Also, does she seem happy to wake up alone or sad about it? This is also additional information you can give the reader without telling.

There is so much information you can give the reader by showing things. For example, what do you choose to note in the room she is waking up in? Don’t just randomly describe the room but make every item you introduce to the reader matter to the story, the character, the plot, and/or theme.

5.The World

In the first pages of your work, you should introduce the world (setting) of your story. You can’t go on describing a person or item or having some dialogue or internal monologue go on and on endlessly. That’s like leaving the reader blindfolded. You need to as soon as possible to, in some way, show the reader where the story is happening.

Just imagine if your words were a movie; if you didn’t show the setting, it would be like looking at a black tv screen.

Of course, laying down the foundation for the world/setting doesn’t just mean the physical location. where everything is happening but the overall tone and theme of the story.

6.Start with movement/action

This does not mean that the first pages should be action-packed, but you do want the character/s or events to be in movement. They are actively participating in moving the story along.

I gave an example earlier of a character waking up, which is not actively doing but rather just being, but I don’t want to say it’s impossible to make a scene like that at the beginning of the story work. Many literary people advise against writing your character waking up in the first scene, but I won’t. Do as you wish but make sure that your first pages are moving the story along and that your character is not passive but an active participant. That things aren’t just happening to her; she is doing things.

And whatever you write, always ask yourself: does this scene and these words add to the story? Do they prep the story? Do they move the story along? If the answer is no, then it has to go.

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