Grabbing an Agent's Attention: How do you start your story?

 Fire update: Our family is still on standby evacuation. The heroic fire crews have made huge strides in fighting the Waldo Canyon Fire. Hopefully the wind here in the mountains will not complicate things. If you're interested, here's a simulated video fly-through of the fire. It starts in my town and flies down through the fire area.

My first manuscript began with a scene of an orphan girl and her encounter with a peddler. It started kind of slowly, and culminated in a violent end. As a novice writer, I read that first chapters were important for grabbing an agent or editor's attention. I didn't think my first chapter was up to snuff (despite the fact it placed in a contest), so I changed it.

My new first chapter had my orphan running from a group of bandits. She's terrified, and has to fight for her life. Full of action, and emotion, I felt sure it was better.

It wasn't. Why?

Because even though I dropped the reader into a life-or-death situation, I didn't give the reader a chance to connect with my character. They didn't care what happened to her, so even though the situation was compelling, the reader's emotions weren't involved.

Kristin Nelson's recent blog post explained this well. I confused an action scene with an active scene. I thought my original slow start wasn't enough, and that I had to have action from the first sentence. Not true. Read through Nelson's post to see what the difference really is.

So, I got thinking about novel beginnings, and what advice others had. Here's a sampling of what I found:

Though it's for short stories, this post lists seven types of story openings, and why you might choose one over another.

Fiction Notes uses actual novel openings to come up with ten common ways to open a novel.

Helium collected a nice list of blog posts on how to write an excellent first chapter.

And two sites with great first chapter advice: Terrible Minds and Story Openings by Theresa Rizzo.

So I've decided to stick with my original first chapter. Once my readers are invested in my character, I can throw her into all kinds of situations. First of all, my job is to connect my readers to my characters.

How about you? What kind of first chapter have you written? Is it more active or action oriented? Have you made changes to it as you've learned more about the craft of writing?


  1. Praying you and your family keep safe. Fires are so devastating. Xx
    All I can say is ... my beginnings suck. I'm off to read those links.

  2. I would be terrified if I were in your place. As Michelle said, I am praying for complete safety for you, your family, and your home.

    I too, homeschool, which is the top reason I signed up as a new follower to your blog. 3 graduates, a junior, 3rd grader and soon to be pre-schooler.

    As for my first chapter, I have re-written it five times. I think I am ready to leave it be. I hope so anyway:)

  3. Thank you both so much! I guess I can use my standby time to write...


  4. Debbie:

    I'm praying for your and your family's safety. Please continue to keep us posted.

    Thanks for these links. There is always meat in your posts! :-)

    Heading over to Kristin Nelson's blog now...

  5. Love the idea of an action scene vs. an active scene. That's really helpful. I do see the same thing over and over again in manuscripts--either its all action and no chance to get to know the character or too much getting to know the character.

    From recent news reports, I gather the fire is getting a little bit under control. Praying like crazy for you and your family.

  6. Thanks for the great tips. We continue to pray for your family and the safety of all involved as they fight to contain this fire. The link is a great example of how important it is to keep 24 closed. Yikes those red lines are close.

  7. Great post, Debbie! I love how you pointed out the difference between active and action. I think I've confused that on my books. :) Your links and critiques will make my next one even better!

  8. I hope you and your family are safe and come out of this fire unscathed.

    I have several first chapters. In the book that I'm releasing in October, a group of rather obnoxious young men at University stumble across the body of a young girl wearing armour. I was hoping to go for intrigue here, rather than action. Did I pull it off? I have no idea!

  9. So far, so good with the fire. I like the sound of your first chapter! Really intriguing.


  10. @Shelley-I hope I get to do some critiquing sometime soon! We'll have to make some plans...




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