Writing a killer first chapter with Emma Flint

Your first chapter is your opportunity to hook your reader. And because it represents your novel as a whole, it should give a taste of everything that makes up the novel.

·       It must open with a memorable first line. You want your reader to think, “That line was so good, I’m in.”

·       It must introduce the main character (and the narrator, if they’re a different character).
In the opening chapter, your main character has one job: to make the reader care about their story. If your reader gets to the end of your first chapter and doesn’t care who your main character is, what’s going on in their life and – most importantly – what they want, they will stop reading.

·       It must introduce the setting, the timeframe and the tone of your novel – and it must include just enough detail to make each of those realistic and credible.

·       It must convey the themes and questions that lie at the heart of your story.
Are you writing about love, or grief, or revenge? Is the question whether the hero will survive, or whether he’ll get away with murder? Whatever the question your book is going to explore, by the end of your first chapter, your reader needs to understand it, and to feel that they must keep reading to find the answer.

These are the books I would recommend with great first chapters:

Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens

Middlemarch - George Eliot

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

The Loney - Andrew Hurley

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

Animal Farm - George Orwell

1984 - George Orwell

The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

Emma Flint grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, and has been writing fiction since she knew what stories were. She graduated from the University of St. Andrews with an MA in English Language and Literature, later completing a novel-writing course at the Faber Academy. She worked in Edinburgh for four years, and now lives in north London. 

Since childhood, she has been drawn to true crime stories, developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of real-life murder cases. She is equally fascinated by notorious historical figures and by unorthodox women – past, present and fictional. Little Deaths is her first novel, and she is working on her second: also a re-telling of a real case, but this time set in London in the 1920s.