I still have enough to worry about with improving my non-fiction writing skills. Nevertheless, this is a good read if you have any interest in understanding the craft of writing.
Jim Macdonald explains writing. Jim Macdonald, half of the Doyle-Macdonald writing team, has been presiding over a hundreds-posts-long running tutorial on how to write that is unbelievably good and sensible and right. If you want to write, go read this now.
Well, now, what to put in the opening?
We’re going to stick with the chess game metaphor for a while here. In the opening you’re trying to put yourself into a strong position for going into the midgame (where the exciting action and the exciting combinations occur), and you do this mostly by getting your pieces off the back rank as quickly as possible. The pieces are your major characters. Get them out there, and get them doing things.
Don’t neglect your pawns — your minor characters. You should cherish your minor characters. They’ll save your life. If you have a selection of minor characters you can pull them out to solve problems later in the book.
Now, what to put in that first chapter? (Recall that if your readers don’t finish the first chapter they’ll never get to chapter two.)
To answer the question of what goes into chapter one, I’m going to grab the first stanzas from a bunch of Anglo-Scots folk ballads. These were the popular songs of earlier times, cooked by the folk process so that only the important and memorable parts remain, they’re entertaining, and they tell stories.