Constructing Chapters

David Baldacci

Lesson time 14:01 min

The first chapter of your book should be a touchstone. David talks about how to open with a “big pop” and how to reference that opening in the rest of your chapters.

David Baldacci
Teaches Mystery and Thriller Writing
In his MasterClass, bestselling thriller author David Baldacci teaches you how he fuses mystery and suspense to create pulse-pounding action.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - So many times, I've had writers come up to me at book events and book signings-- I have a book that I want to write. I just can't get started. You know? And the reason they can't get started is they're trying to figure out everything that's gonna be in this 140,000-word, 500-page novel before they sit down to write it. And they're totally overwhelmed by it. They just can't do it. And their fingers hover over the keys. You know, their hand is shaking with the pen. So they never write the first page. I always like to come up with-- I call it the big pop. And the big pop is, how is the novel gonna open? You know, because if you don't get that right, it doesn't matter what else you write after that because nobody's gonna bother to finish reading it. So the big pop is really important. So I need to understand intimately how that scene is going to unfold and how it's gonna drive the rest of the story. So it could be that, you know, somebody dies, somebody is killed, a plane crashes, you know, a government facility is robbed, somebody escapes from a prison. That's the big pop. And then it's my job to take that big pop and break it down, understand how I'm gonna construct that scene, how you will construct that scene. There was a book I wrote called "The Escape" where this guy that I needed to get out of that prison-- it's the USDB-- United States Disciplinary Barracks-- at Leavenworth. It's escape-proof. Nobody's ever escaped from it. You just can't escape from it. My job was, in the opening chapters, I needed him to escape from this prison. I've been out there. I mean, I see how it's worked out. It's a military prison. And for me, in my mind, there was only one way for this to happen, and that was the big pop that I came up with. So everything that I built around that opening scene in my outline, I needed to execute on. But all the different elements I built in that scene-- all of that was threaded into the rest of the novel. I got the big pop. It's almost like a little self-encapsulized short story. I'm gonna sit down and I'm going to write those first few chapters. And then all of a sudden, you're over that hump of, oh, my god, how do I do this. Because when you write those first three chapters, all of a sudden, you opened up all these possibilities for all these other plot threads. I've got this stuff here. He's escaping form prison. Who helped him? Who didn't help him? Why did he get out? What's he gonna do now? All of a sudden, there's all this stuff you can write about, and the problem of "I don't know how to start it" goes away. [MUSIC PLAYING] While I'm writing a novel, I constantly go back to the first chapter. Sometimes-- every time that I go back to the novel, I could be in the middle or near the end, and I go back to that first chapter. That's my touchstone. That should be a writer's touchstone. That's how you opened this compelling story to the world. So it's the most-- the first thing ...

Captivate your readers

David Baldacci has captivated readers across the world with gripping, suspense-fueled thrillers. Now the New York Times–bestselling author of 38 novels shares his techniques for crafting authentic characters, developing research-based plots, and navigating the world of publishing. Learn how to write a novel with red herrings, clues, and plot twists that will keep your readers turning the pages.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Amazing MasterClass! David Baldacci is an awesome writer and a great communicator. He is generous in sharing his knowledge and tips on his craft.

Loved it. Very practical and incredibly inspiring!

I absolutely love this class. The instructor is highly relatable and breaks everything into bite size chunks. Small, actionable pieces.

I loved how real & personal these lessons have been. It has been a joy to listen to real life experiences in a writer's journey. I'm grateful for the advice David Baldacci has given in a sincere and heartfelt way. Thank you!


A fellow student

I am sorry but I don’t understand what David means when he’s speaking of a « big pop » in the first scene. Is it supposed to be a great deed by the protagonist ? Or is it a disaster that gets the story started even before the setup ? Could someone clarify if possible please ?

A fellow student

I like the analogy with movies, that a scene is expensive to shoot and must be rich. The stories I like best are those that accomplish several things at once. Looking now to see how I can layer my current scene.


I have a hard time in the era of mass shootings with the romantizing / entertainment value of murder. The books he describes seem gratuitous and are more of the societal problem than the solution. Violence with redemption is one thing, violence for popcorn entertainment is where we end up with guys shooting up movie theaters dressed as Batman characters.

laura J.

I was so busy listening to the story that I got lost, what happened to the girl, did he kill someone else and what happened to the boy, who killed him, okay, going to get the book, listen to the class again!

Darya B.

First writing master class that actually talks about writing instead of common sense stuff and gives real useful info. THANK U!


Purpose! "Is it a bridge to something? Are you driving the plot forward? Are you conveying information? Are you deepening a character in some way?" Excellent & precise. Thank you!

Lina R.

I found it interesting that David uses such long chapters. I'm finding his lessons very easy to relate to.

Eva S.

I loved this lesson. I had questions about how the research should appear organically onto the page and by reading his excerpt from the text and showing us the outline, I now understand how to do it. And I understand now that less is more and how essential it is NOT to show all the research you've done, all the cool things you've learned on guns onto the page. I love what he said about pace, and that if you chose to write 5 pages per chapter, then every word must have importance and purpose and you cannot dilly dally all you want. I don't however, mind reading or writing long chapters I have read quite a few of his books and a lot of them have long chapters and I quite enjoy the pace of them. Can't wait for the next lesson! and thank you, David, for doing this masterclass and sharing your methods with us!