It is becoming clear that writing a cracking opening chapter is something I have yet to master. You have to engage your reader during the first three pages of your novel. Your opening chapter needs to be kick-ass and a killer first line is essential.

My First Line:  “Lisa Grant struggled to open the rain-swollen front door of her Cotswold-stone cottage, leaning into it with her shoulder like a determined prop forward.” 😒

A Killer First Line:  “You better tell nobody but God.”- The Color Purple, Alice Walker 🤩

Alice Walker’s killer first line provides the narrative voice, promises conflict and engages the reader.

My current WIP would, probably, find its niche in Women’s Fiction.  It has evolved over the last three and a half years and I have written at least six opening chapters, but I still haven’t nailed it.  I was under no illusion, I never thought my first crack at writing a novel would be easy.

My current first chapter is just shy of 2000 words and I’ve already been told that I adopt a “pleasingly light and incredibly readable tone in the opening” and that my description of my MC and “the way she sees the world already marks her out as a character the reader will want to invest in.”  But, so far, she is not someone agents and publishers want to invest in.

  • There are no ghostly figures levitating behind a fishnet curtain waiting to scare the shit out of you.
  • It is not an epic historical drama.
  • There is no dead body lying in a pool of blood in the library with a candlestick beside it as Professor Green slips out of the room through a hidden door in the wooden panelling.
  • There are no dragons or mythical creatures to lure you into a fantasy world of Lannister dynasties and there are no Frodo’s, Bilbo’s or Gollums embarking on journey’s to reclaim lonely mountains.

My WIP about forty-year-old women assessing the last twenty years of her life, trying to work out where things went wrong.

My current Chapter One outlines the tenuous relationship my MC has with her narcissist Mother and drops hints about the plans she has to dig herself out of her self-dug rut.

Maybe… it’s just not the best place to start.



  1. I know how you feel. I’ve changed my opening about six times, too, but I’m not convinced that’s the problem. My novel is about a Sailor stationed in the Philippines trying to convince himself that the easy love around him can actually lead to true love. I think agents are worried about the Sailor-Barmaid connection and how that would go over in today’s hypersensitive world.
    All my beta readers have loved the novel, but I can’t get an agent to request a partial or full manuscript. I’ve queried 102 agents and received 47 automatic replies: “We’re Sorry. This just isn’t a good fit for us.”
    All I can say is keep trying, but don’t let it keep you from other writing. I have two other novels in various stages, but the first is a labor of love; I need to see it through to an agent and a publisher. Good luck 🙂

    1. Hi Will… thank you very much for taking the time to reply.

      You are so right, first novels are a labour of love. I take heart from the positive feedback I have received to date and try not dwell on the ‘We are sorry’s,’ which is kind of what I’ve come to expect. I haven’t submitted very many agent/publishers yet and having just finished another edit, I wish I hadn’t sent any earlier drafts out at all! All the best from Jersey, Channel Islands, UK.

  2. I am incredibly sympathetic, Tessa. Just remember that much of the best classic literature could never have gotten published today. The Great Gatsby, for example:

    ‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’

    One of the great works of literature, but hardly a zing-y first two lines. I mean, it doesn’t exactly “pop” off the page.

    Or, “He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.” The first words of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

    Not a single zombie!

    Take heart. Keep going.

  3. Perhaps, on simple change – move to the beginning, ” Leaning into it with her shoulder” replace, “like a determined prop forward.” with something like, “sweat streaming down her face, deep breaths force oxygen throughout her body,” and then, “Lisa Grant struggled to open the rain-swollen front door of her Cotswold-stone cottage. So it reads,
    ” Leaning into it with her shoulder, sweat streams down her face, deep and labored breaths force oxygen throughout her body, Lisa Grant struggles to open the stubborn rain-swollen door of her Cotswold-stone cottage”

    1. Hi Joe… I much appreciate you taking the time to comment, as well as suggesting a very descriptive alternative. All good gryst to the mill. Thank you. I will certainly bear it in mind. At the moment I have pared it down so it reads… ‘Lisa Grant lunged into the front door of her Cotswold-stone cottage like a determined prop forward. After one final push she fell through the rain-swollen door to be met by the all-pervading smell of mould.’ But, you never know, I might well change it again! Thank you again.

  4. Hi Tessa,
    I typed a comment, but not sure if it posted or I lost it. I will repost it here, if it is on twice, I apologize.

    Just a thought, perhaps move – “leaning into it with her shoulder“ to the beginning and replace, “like a determined prop forward” with something like, “sweat streaming down her face, deep breaths forcing oxygen to fuel starved muscles,”

    So it reads,
    “Leaning into it with her shoulder, sweat streams down her face, deep breaths force oxygen to fuel starved muscles, Lisa Grant strains to open the unyielding rain-swollen door of her Cotswold-stone cottage.”


Thank you very much for visiting my niche-less blog! If you have time before you leave, would love you to tell us what you think. All the best, Tessa Barrie

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