Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The First Paragraph Leads to the First Chapter

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Take a look at your manuscript. Does your first line compel the reader to take in the first paragraph? Is the opening paragraph an incentive to read the first chapter? 

  • Your first line prompts the reader to read the first paragraph.
  • The first paragraph compels the reader to read the first chapter.
  • The first chapter invites the reader to finish the book.
  • The last chapter sells your next book.
I cringe when writers show me their work and they have written to the reader, “Don’t stop reading, you’ll see why later.” Or, “Stay with me, it will be worth it.” Or, “Keep turning pages to find out …”

An author’s first job is to elicit emotion in the reader. We create work that a reader feels is worth an investment of their time and money. Rather than ask the reader to hang on until they have a reason to keep reading, move to the beginning the parts that compel them to turn pages. 

Like us, readers come to a piece of writing with several questions.
  • What’s in this for me?
  • Why should I care?
  • Is this believable?
  • Can I trust this author will deliver a story as good as promised?
With an interesting first sentence in place, pen an opening paragraph that stirs curiosity in the reader to discover what is to come. What questions does the first paragraph ask in these first paragraphs? Would you keep reading?
  • In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. ~ The Bible
  • Nikki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father. For paradoxically it was he who wanted to give her a Japanese name and I – perhaps out of some selfish desire not to be reminded of the past – insisted on an English one. ~ A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • This was an extraordinary mission. No presidential aides had ever done what they were about to do. J. Fred Buzhardt and Leonard Garment settled into their first-class seats on Eastern flight 177 from Washington D.C. to Miami. They had reached an inescapable conclusion and had reviewed the reasons over and over. Garment had a list on a yellow legal pad–now twenty-two or twenty-three items. It was a bleak and very unpleasant business. ~ The Final Days by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  • Little Ruth felt herself being shaken. She opened an eye. Six-year-old June leaned over her, the sleeves of her red robe dragging against Ruth’s quilt. “Get up! Santa’s been here!” ~ The Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen
  • I watched the headlights bounce up and down our long, bumpy driveway. They took forever to arrive, but only because I was so excited. ~ The Mysterious Matt Barnes by Matthew Weigelt 
  • Anything could happen while the dead slept. Which was why some would say a woman shouldn’t tread alone through a cemetery at 2:55 on a Tuesday morning in April. But possible danger had never stopped Houston FBI Special Agent Tori Templeton, especially when her mind marched with determination. Her body refused to give in to rest, but it wasn’t a violent crime robber her of sleep. ~ Deep Extraction by DiAnn Mills
  • As the graveyard fell dark into the shiver of the canyon’s breath, the sexton, with the arduous motion of arthritic hands, donned his coat, hat, scarf, lit the wick of a candle-lantern, then emerged from his cottage into the snow-draped graveyard to chain the cemetery’s gates against threat of grave robbers.~ The Letter by Richard Paul Evans
Once a piece is complete, many authors return to the first paragraph. When a project is finished, the writer has learned more about their story and can polish the opening paragraph to elicit emotion in the reader. 

Does your first line compel the reader to continue through the first paragraph? Does the first paragraph lead the reader to invest time in the first chapter? Will the first chapter propel the reader to complete the book? Will the reader close this book and immediately look for the next by the same author?


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells


  1. Love the examples. Thanks for the post.

    1. Hey Sally Jo, thanks for writing and talking about writing together.

  2. "An author’s first job is to elicit emotion in the reader." Every writer should memorize this and say it out loud every hour or so. 😊

    1. Thank you, Kay. This is key to writing that lives beyond the page.