Well, first chapters are our first impressions with readers, editors, and agents.
Take the LOOK INSIDE feature to your book on its Amazon page. The prospective buyer will probably give you 30 seconds ...
which is the first paragraph at the most.
If it teases them to read the whole first chapter, then that chapter better be Oscar Worthy.
1.) TENSE AREN'T YOU?
First person, past tense tends to draw the reader into the mind of your character,
but write in the tense in which you think your novel's action in your head.
It will feel most natural to you and in the end, to the reader.
2.) IN THE BEGINNING ...
The first chapter must ensnare the reader.
I still remember that iconic scene in ROGUE NATION with Rebecca Fergeson in the opera house high back-stage ...
arching her long leg in the slit skirt to rest her elbow of the arm holding the rifle to kill Tom Cruise.
Scenes teasing sex and action always rivet.
But the first scene of that movie was Tom Cruise hanging on for his life on a plane's wing as it took off, yelling for Simon Pegg to open that damn door!
Start where your story hits the ground running.
3.) BOND. JAMES BOND
Introduce a strong character right away. "My name is Ishmael."
When designing your Chapter One, establish your characters’ situation(s).
What do they know at the beginning?
What will they learn going forward?
What does their world mean to them?
4.) IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
As with movie monsters, less is more with a novel's setting right at the beginning.
Your reader will fill in the blanks for you if you but deftly sketch in a few striking details.
"It was the sort of alley where a wino would hole up in to die."
5.) THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
Despite what I wrote above, details are important.
But you must be laser-accurate with as few of them as you can manage.
The plastic restraints hurt. But they did not hurt as much as that scalpel would. It hovered over his right eye.
His nose wrinkled at the whisky on the breath of the surgeon as she slurred, "I know you are wondering why I am doing this to you."
6.) MAKE YOUR 1ST CHAPTER A MINI-ME
It’s no accident that many great novels have first chapters
that were excerpted in magazines, where they essentially stood as short stories.
Every chapter should have its own plot, none more important than Chapter One.
Focus on action.
A good way to do that is to make a character take decisive action.
The first chapter should have an arc and closure
that promises more of the same or that the victory was really a hollow one unrealized by the protagonist.
Here's wishing you a best-seller that will make you rich and famous!