COMMUNITY LEARNING HUB: ONLINE MODULES

6.1 FIRST 3 CHAPTERS

Tips on how to make those first chapters draw in your reader and get a request for more!

Why is your three chapter sample so important?

It is the first impression your agent, and subsequently publisher, will have of your book. Think of it as a literary handshake – the gateway to the rest of your novel. 

We want to make sure the agents you submit to absolutely have to read on, and there are different ways to approach this, depending on the sort of book you’re writing.

First impressions

When looking back at your three chapter sample, step into the shoes of the reader and pretend you’ve just picked a book off the shelf in a shop. Have a close look at your first page and consider the following:

  • What is happening on the first page? What are you trying to achieve with it?
  • Has something changed in the protagonist’s world?
  • What have we learned about the main character by the end of it?
  • Are we invested in the protagonist yet?
  • What questions have been raised in the readers’ mind?
  • Are we curious to read more? Why?

Before moving on to your sample as a whole, it’s worth seeing if any of these key points are missing from your first page. If so, why? Is there a reason for it that serves your story, or do you need to do some polishing?

Crucially, the very first thing you should consider is if your novel starts at the right point in your story. If you start it too late, we don’t have time to be invested in the characters; too early and we may struggle to find the hook that will make us want to read on. Think about why you’ve chosen that particular moment, and consider whether there are others that might work instead.

I try not to give definitive don’ts, but I will say that, unless you have a good reason for doing so, avoid opening your novel on a sleep-wake cycle.

Checklist

There are lots of different ways to approach your first three chapters, but this is a good checklist to make sure you’ve covered your bases:

  • Status Quo: The first chapter, especially, must establish your protagonist’s status quo, their normal. If you’ve used the questions above to help you work on your first page, you should have already achieved this.
  • Hook: Think about the pitch in your cover letter. That is what is drawing us into the story. Do we see any of that in your sample?
  • Call to action: By the end of the third chapter you want to be approaching your call to action. This is the part of the story that kicks off the plot, and gives your character a goal. Depending on how your story unfolds, you might find this chapter features your inciting incident (the event that kicks off the bulk or your story). Or, you might find that it introduces the hook (as above). I’ve done both in my writing and they can both work, but you definitely need something to drive your character at this point.

It can be really difficult to step away from your own writing, so try and read the sample on a different device, or even print it out if you can. The tips above help with what you need to do technically, but the voice, and the rest of it, comes from you. It’s difficult to quantify that part of writing, so where possible try and get someone to read your sample, and see if you can reel them in in preparation for submitting to agents. 

Very best of luck!


Aisha was born in Bahrain and has lived in Kuwait, England and Canada. The first novel she ever worked on was a piece of fan fiction, based on her favourite book series, which she stayed up all night to work on when she was thirteen. Aisha now writes children’s books, sometimes with a little bit of magic in them. 

Aisha is also a Spark Mentor and tutors our Preparing for Submission, with agent Lucy Irvine.