How to write a great first chapter

By Carly Corcoran and Megan Bassett, Assistant Editors, Harlequin Mills & Boon

Can you guess the opening line?

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…”

“New Year’s Resolutions

I Will Not…”

There’s no better way to stand out from the crowd and catch an editor’s eye than a great first chapter!

But before we tell you our top tips, here are some of the pitfalls to avoid…

Clichéd openings – We’re not saying familiar scenarios can’t work, but we’re looking for you to put your individual stamp on it by giving it a fresh spin!


Writing yourself in – don’t spend three chapters setting the scene with no hero and heroine connection in sight!

Don’t peak too soon – a great first paragraph or gripping first line isn’t much use if the story goes down hill from there…

Here are our top tips on how to grab your reader’s (and editor’s!) attention with a gripping first chapter!

• Be sure of who your hero and heroine are before you start

• Aim to get them together as soon as possible

• Keep the focus on the hero and heroine and their developing romance as much as you can

• Give your reader a tantalising taste of the emotional conflict within the first few pages

• Give evidence of the instant attraction between the hero and heroine

• Aim to unfold the back-story in bite-sized pieces throughout your book. Not immediately, in one long, indigestible chunk!

• Use dialogue – when the characters speak for themselves, readers will be instantly engaged

• Keep minor characters to an absolute minimum

• Keep an eye on your pace – it should be tight and fast from page one, with the aim of keeping the reader turning the pages

• Aim to end your first chapter on a climax – and invite the reader to read on – leave them wanting more!

In case you couldn’t guess the opening line…

1984 by George Orwell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

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Comments ( 13 )
  1. MarcieR
    November 2, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Awesome tips! Especially when I realize I made an error or two in my current WIP.

  2. Jewel Adams
    November 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Very good information, I’m going back and read it again 🙂

  3. Cheryl
    November 2, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Especially the part about knowing who hero and heroine are before starting to write the book. The more I work at it the more the thing holds together. I’m eager to hear how published authors work their stories out, and I’m printing out these tips.

  4. Tweets that mention Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. --
    November 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

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  5. RKCharron
    November 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for the fun & informative & helpful post!
    All the best,

  6. Suzy Turner
    November 2, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Useful stuff… I once wrote a novel with the opening chapter featuring a woman having a rather hot dream. When she awoke suddenly, she clambered for her vibrator but the batteries were dead! Needless to say, it didn’t get picked up!

  7. beverly
    November 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I love to write, my first manuscript is going out at the end of this week. It was not what I feel is my best work. I have learned so much I think I can write my favorite romance Blaze. I heard a tape made by Isabele Sharpe about Blaze and suggesting that I watch Sex and the city and read Cosmipopitan and lots of Blaze which I have been doing hopefully to write for them.

  8. Sandii
    November 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Fantastic tips. Thanks. I’m off to go over my opening line, paragraph and first page.


  9. Susan Lower
    November 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Great advice, off to go revise my first chapter!

  10. Anna Patterson
    November 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I know one of my biggest problems in my own writing is avoiding the clichéd approach. I did not realize how many of these I am personally locked into in conversation and writing until I started trying to get rid of them. Thanks for all advise.

  11. Joelene
    November 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks for the checklist. I reviewed my first chapter and am happy to say I’d matched them all! Looking forward to the next challenge.


  12. Maurine
    November 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

    There are four opening lines and only three books listed.

  13. bianca
    November 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    i really want to write a book because it can be fun

Leave a reply to beverly