Jump To Section
5 Ways to Start a Chapter and Keep Your Readers Engaged
Whether you’re writing your first book or the latest in a bestselling series, effective chapter introductions can hook readers and keep them reading until the very last page. Here are some tips to help you begin chapters:
- Begin with action. When in doubt, begin the opening scene of a new chapter with action. This doesn’t necessarily mean beginning with a high-adrenaline chase sequence or an edge-of-your-seat battle (although you may want to include some of this if you’re writing a thriller). It just means using some sort of activity as your starting point. Even if the action involves your main character simply going through their morning routine, starting a chapter with an activity provides a lively, dynamic way to draw your reader into your character’s world and convey necessary narrative information. Beginning your chapter in medias res, with your main character caught up in the middle of an action scene, can immediately capture your readers’ attention.
- Try a new point of view. Once you’ve established a consistent narrative voice in your opening chapter, switching to a different POV in the next chapter can be a way of catching your reader off-guard. Including different points of view as part of your overall chapter structure can help you introduce distinct and memorable characters while providing a new narrative vessel for backstory and worldbuilding. It can also present an opportunity to be specific with your dialect and vocabulary in an attempt to mimic a character’s unique voice. Some writers may vary their chapter length depending on who’s narrating, with some characters receiving longer chapters while others get shorter chapters. Beginning your book chapters with a new point of view can be an exciting way of destabilizing your reader’s expectations and keeping them engaged.
- Reveal new information. In the same way that cliffhangers serve as effective chapter breaks, revealing new information about your main character or story can be an intriguing way of starting a new chapter. Offering new details about a character can deepen readers’ understanding of them and further explain their motivations. Similarly, introducing a new story twist early in a chapter can provide a jolt of narrative momentum that will keep your readers turning the pages.
- Include sensory details. One of the most surefire ways of hooking your reader early in a chapter is to give them a sense of place. That means including sensory details that allow them to experience the sights, sounds, and smells your protagonist is experiencing. Readers are more likely to identify with your main character if you can put them in your protagonist’s shoes, so look for opportunities to begin chapters with specific details during your writing process. This can also be a particularly effective way of starting your first chapter, as it will help give the setting a sense of immediacy and immerse the reader in the world of your story.
- Jump through time. Shifting narrative timeframes can be a compelling device in chapter books. Beginning a chapter with a flashback can give added depth to your character’s backstory while providing added context to their present decision making. For instance, if your novel or short story is about an adult going through a messy divorce, starting a new chapter by exploring the main character’s high school years and witnessing them go through a break up for the first time can be an effective way of deepening readers' understanding of their current heartbreak. A nonlinear narrative also offers an opportunity to write in different narrative tenses, meaning that the reader will know that something is different and intriguing from the very first sentence.
Want to Learn More About Writing?
Become a better writer with the Masterclass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, and more.