A few years ago Harlequin editors created a little checklist about effective first chapters. We don’t literally fill them out these days, but most of us keep them in mind. Here are some of the points we raised…
Is the characterization strong and vivid?
Do the characters make decisions?
Are the characters appealing?
Is the motivation established and consistent?
Does the story engage the reader emotionally?
Is the pacing steady?
Are the opening and closing lines strong?
(Is the prologue needed?)
Do you want to read on?
And the editor had to either say yes–or explain how in the revisions the author would address those points.
It was surprising at first how we had to think about those points–and then how ingrained it became to expect those elements in a story.
Depending on what you’re writing, it might not be essential to have a “yes” to every point. But while you might get away with skipping some of those points, because a category romance is so tightly written and so focused on the emotional push and pull with the readers and the characters, it’s essential to draw the reader into the promise of the story from the start.
So think about it–can you say yes to these points in your opening chapter? And if no, why not?