Dos and Don’ts for the First Three Chapters

Dos and Don’ts for the First Three Chapters
April 12, 2016 1 Comment For Authors, Writing J.K. Allen

The first three chapters of your book are crucial. They decide whether an agent wants your full manuscript or not and whether the reader will buy and continue reading your book. So you have to make them strong and powerful to hook the reader. So how do we do this? Here’s some dos and don’ts for your first three chapters.


  • Introduce all main characters (characters that push the action forward). That way the reader knows who to care about and follow along with.
  • Make your protagonist likeable or at least intriguing. Otherwise why would your reader care about what happens to the character?
  • Use action and dialogue to develop character. We learn about someone by what they say and do.
  • Start a step back from the inciting incident. Start with the action.

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  • Include too much backstory. Your reader doesn’t need to know every detail of the character’s past to follow what’s happening now. Weave information throughout and avoid info dumping.
  • Use flashbacks in the first three chapters. Readers need to care more about the present story before they go back in time.
  • Use prologues. Prologues are often just an info dump in disguise and many agents steer clear of books with a prologue.
  • Have something be a dream. This cheats the reader and causes them to waste time understanding a situation that didn’t even happen.
  • Start with waking up. This is a cliché. It’s also boring and mundane to see a character going through their daily routine. Start with action.
  • Introduce too many characters, too many plot points, too many narrative threads, too many POV switches, etc. Let your reader settle into the story in the first three chapters.
  • Use heavy handed descriptions, whether it’s setting or describing your characters, sprinkle it throughout.
  • Have characters doing nothing like cleaning, reminiscing while they stare at a photo, etc. We get to know characters by what they do, so have them do something relevant and more interesting than washing dishes for five pages.

These tips will help you strengthen your first three chapters and get them ready to send out into the world. It’s all about keeping the reader intrigued and wanting more. What are your tenets for the first three chapters? Which book has the best opening? Comment below and happy writing.

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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