So you want to be a writer? Well, you're in for a long ride. Here are the things I have learned along the way.
My first piece of advice is- Your first chapter is the absolute most important chapter of your book! I don't care if the ending is great, or if the middle of your story has amazing intrigue. If your first chapter has me (or the agent you are querying) falling asleep, then I will set it aside and say, "No, thank you." And so will the agent.
In fact I did exactly that. I swapped a couple of chapters with a potential cp, and after four pages, I commented, 'This might be okay as a middle chapter, when we've fallen in love with the characters. Maybe by then I would be interested in reading about them watching the stars for 800 words, but still probably not. So my suggestion is to come up with something more intriguing that will pull me in. Once you do I would love to read it.'
Well, he was upset that I stopped reading at page four- I guess he was relying on it getting better later into the story. He replied that he didn't want to continue as cp's. The truth of the matter is, I don't want to spend my time reading and critiquing a ms if I think it is hopeless. I will gladly help with grammar and any suggestions on improvement - IF THE STORY PULLS ME IN. If I believe in your ability to weave an interesting plot and deep characters, I will gladly share my time. However, if after reading your first chapter I don't think your ms could ever get published, I'm going to tell you 'bring me something stronger because I'm not wasting my time on this'. I know that sounds horrible, BUT as cruel as that sounds, I guarantee an agent will do the exact same thing!
I believe each chapter should have its own beginning, conflict, and some form of resolution. These should all be minor conflicts that weave through the main conflict. Such as characters not getting along, or they get lost trying to go somewhere. It can be extremely minor, but if you are writing a chapter about their meal at a diner and you end it with them wiping their mouths and leaving-and there was no conflict- then you need to study more about what goes into a solid story.
Hannah Bowman gives a perfect example below of how to start your novel.
So, now you've written your amazing first chapter. Edit it, and when your done, do it again, and then one more time. Clean it until it gleams. If a sentence or word isn't absolutely needed, cut it. I can write 3,000 words, and I will go back and cut at least 100 when I edit and remove all of my 'useless' fillers.
Next, get on query tracker, or any other writers chat room, and find a cp partner!!! I believe this one decision is the next most important one. (next to starting your novel)
Do not settle for just any cp!!! Start with a single chapter swap (your wonderful first chapter that shows off your talents and story) to see how well you blend. You should be looking for the ying to your yang. It does you no good to find a cp with grammar issues when that's your weakness as well. For example: I am all about movement and action, and though my grammar is strong, I lack descriptions in a lot of my chapters. I can be a little 'telly' and eager to get from point A to point B without painting any pictures. Because of that, many of my sentences became choppy, though they were grammatically correct, they didn't flow. (I HATE to go back and see where I started and how bad my story telling was. Grammar was good, story was good, the way I told it...not so much)
Well......in steps my ying :)
She graciously comments about some of my weaknesses because they popped right away to her, because she has very opposite weaknesses. Her grammar is a work in progress (and improving greatly), but her story (in the past) has lacked movement because she would linger with beautiful descriptions and flowing sentences, but didn't move. At first I was amazed by the pictures she painted with her words, but 10k words in and not much has happened, I started to get a little bored....but her writing is brilliant, and her words are creative, she just needed to know when to stop describing and to get a move on.
In a matter of just two months we have helped bring our novels to a much more enjoyable story. She tells me when I need to be more descriptive. I tell her when she's too descriptive. You see why opposites work?
Make sure they share a love for the same genre as you. (I loathe a romance novel, and the only way I enjoy non-fiction is if it is written like fiction....telling me the story as it happens, not telling me the past and why it enlightened them, blah) If you are going to be reading their ms, it's not fair to them if you hate that genre because it will come out in your critique. I would butcher a romance and leave them crying with my comments-including the published ones-YUCK!- *sticking finger in my mouth to barf*
Also make sure their novel isn't too much like yours. I actually swapped a chapter with another 'potential' cp whose ms was a fantasy with supernatural abilities, and the main character, the person that opens the story, was named Gabe!--- I open my novel, in the first sentence with Gabriyel leaping out of bed...and my character has supernatural abilities as well....so, needless to say it was a little weird and I declined to share after that.
Lastly, don't forget to read! I write a chapter or two, then step back and read a book, or critique some chapters for my cp. You need both sides. An athlete is worthless if they don't eat. Just think of reading/ studying as your fuel to better perform.
So to summarize,
1.) Write a dynamite first chapter
2.) Use that chapter to swap with any potential cp
3.) Go through as many 'potantial' cp's as necessary until you find your perfectly-opposite match, who writes similar genres, but isn't writing the same 'concept' you are.
4.) Don't forget to write, read, study, write, read, study...you get the picture.