Chapter 1 goals
Here's a sort of checklist I made a long time ago for what chapter one needs to do.
Introduce the protagonist
- Their status: their role in society; profession, approximate age, etc.
- Their relationships: some relatives, friends, acquaintances, rivals, and enemies.
Introduce the setting
If it's the real world all you need to do for this is make that clear. If not you must introduce the world:
- Physically: is it basically set on Earth, just not the real Earth? There are other options (besides sci-fi mulitplanet settings). One I created was a flat water world with a few massive pillars of land that people live on (travel between them required powerful magic).
- Culturally: do the people have significant difference in values from those in this world, or any exotic customs? Religion? Government?
- Its rules: reveal the technology level, and any magic system, as early as possible so we know what is and isn't possible in this world. Although some of this responsibility can be delegated to chapter 2 or maybe even 3, you should start in chapter 1. Also, if the POV character doesn't know how the magic works, then of course the audience doesn't need to know yet.
Introduce the plot
There should be at least a hint of how the main plot is going to start - otherwise, people might not feel interested enough to continue even if the first chapter is good.
Some stories start with a chapter that doesn't follow the protagonist at all (or follows them years earlier) and is more or less disconnected from their story, but introduces some things about the world that would be hard to introduce from the protagonist's perspective. I think this is appropriate for some stories, but I think of it as not a chapter 1 but a *prologue*, and should be labeled as such to avoid building expectations that you aren't going to pay off. I read one book that had a prologue labeled as chapter 1 and it reaaaaaaaaaaally bothered me because I got so invested into the POV character as he existed at that time and wanted to see a story about *that person*, but then chapter 2 was like "surprise it's 7 years later and he's a totally different person now!". Almost dropped the book on the spot.
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