I'm reading a book called "Beginnings, Middles, and Ends" by Nancy Kress. Since I mostly use this blog right now as a place to write notes, I wanted to write what she said.
"The first scene...shouldn't be a summary scene. In fact, scene one can't be a scene in which the situation doesn't change..."
So, basically, the first chapter should present a situation at the beginning that by the end is different and has presented a problem or new situation to base the rest of the book on.
She gives some possible ideas:
"* character discovers a task he is starting is more complicated than he'd hoped.
* character learns a disturbing piece of information
* character arrives someplace new
* character meets someone who will significantly alter his life (and even in first scene the new acquaintance has begun to change the character's immediate goals or ideas.
* An event occurs--a murder, a spaceship landing, the arrival of a letter--that will lead to significant change. First scene hints at the repercussions that will follow."
I really liked how Kress worded what a first chapter should include. I've heard similar things from writing conferences and books, but I thought hers was very well put and easy to understand, so wanted to write it on my blog.
Many new writers struggle with beginning their story. How to start it, where to start it, from whose point of view to start it? Once you decide whose story it is, then the most interesting place to begin your story is where the point of your story starts. That moment things begin to change. Not the moment your character was born, but the moment life took on new meaning, situation, or desire.
Prologues should also grab the reader. The thing about prologues, I've found, is it's basically like writing two first chapters. You must capture the readers attention, set the mood, follow all the guidelines that a first chapter should have, only much shorter. Then you have to do it all over again when you start Chapter 1. That can be difficult or useful, depending. I am not really a believer in prologues, so I've struggled with the book I'm working on because I have a prologue. The reason I included one is because it needs a letter at the beginning to set up who's story it is and to complicate the story line so it can all come together eventually. I have thought many times about taking it out because I'm afraid a publisher or reader might not be grabbed by it. I have re-written it dozens of times to try and make it more interesting, and still I'm not satisfied with it. Right now I have let it rest and instead I'm working on editing the rest of the manuscript, waiting for inspiration to hit.