On Twitter I’m making general editing notes under the hashtag #LianaEdits so I can point out errors I see repeated over multiple books (sometimes even in published books – yikes!) One of the most common problems I see are opening chapters that don’t get the story started. Opening chapters cannot be a vignette or a happy idyllic life where nothing is happening. No matter how small the need, every character must have a desire, and the opening chapters need to show us the main characters needs.
The needs of the character should establish the stakes of the book (what’s at risk) and each plot twist should raise the stakes.
Here’s a quick primer on how to plot the opening chapters and raise the stakes so the reader wants to finish your book…
- A point of view character who needs something
- An antagonist
- A call to action
This can be as simple as “Little Suzy wants a cookie but the teacher won’t let her out of class. Then, at lunch, Suzy’s friend suggests they run home to get cookies while everyone is at recess.”
Page 1: The character must have a need.
End of chapter 1: The first antagonist prevents the hero from fulfilling their need.
End of chapter 2: A call to action is issued that gives the hero a chance to fulfill their first want.
End of chapter 3: PLOT TWIST! Something changes and the hero’s need changes.
Suzy wants a cookie but there’s none in her lunch.
The teacher won’t let Suzy call home to have the cookie she left on the counter delivered.
Suzy’s friend suggests they sneak out the school gate and run home to get the cookies.
While the girls sneak out, the school is attacked by aliens and Suzy is the only one who saw!
Original stakes: Lunch with no cookies!
After the plot twist: Classmates might be lunch!