Beginnings are awful! …just my opinion…
The first chapter of your first draft is the first taste you get of your story. You, not your readers, not your editors. I’m talking about you here. And there’s huge difference between drafting a first chapter for you, the writer, and drafting one for the consumption of others.
A first draft of a first chapter should help you do several things:
1. Acknowledge that you are officially writing a novel - let that sink in
You have just transitioned from planning, organizing, or thinking about writing a novel to actually doing it. Work on developing daily writing habits and goals. Learn how to fit it into your routine. This is all about the act of writing, and not what you are writing
2. Learn about your protagonist
Intimately. A reader might only scratch the surface in the first chapter of who this character is. They might get a glimpse of their goals/flaws and a little about their home life and past. In a first draft, you should be writing any little thing that comes to mind about the character. If she wakes up and wants cereal, and she’s out of her favorite cereal, feel free to write the detailed back story of how she loves Lucky Charms because her brother used to eat all the marshmallows from the box, leaving her with none. And then go into the back story of how her little brother always got everything he wanted, and her parents tended to favor him. Go on for pages and pages on their childhood if that is what you’re thinking about. Most of this might not make it it into the next draft, but it’s valuable info that helps you get acquainted with your characters. Go off on as many tangents as you want.
3. Get into the problem
Some final drafts jump right into the main conflict, and sometimes it’s more appropriate to write some setup to introduce the context before the meat of the problem is identified. Regardless of your situation, you need to get into the problem early on in your first draft. Getting to the problem makes it clear to you why you’re writing the novel. And once you have a good idea why you’re writing it, you’re more likely to continue writing it. Not to mention, the conflict is the fun part. In addition, if you skip a lot of the setup to the problem, it feels more like a first draft. And when we’re in “first draft mode,” it’s easier to just go with the flow.
4. Write the second chapter
The first chapter should help you write the second chapter, plain and simple. If all the first chapter accomplishes is getting you past the “beginning” so you can work on the middle, then so be it. I say this a lot, but the first draft of a first chapter just needs to exist. It doesn’t have to be good, and it doesn’t have to do anything. It just has to be there so you can trick your brain into thinking that the story is underway and that scary beginning is over and done with. Now you can focus on the fun stuff.
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to have the perfect beginning. You might not know the best way to get it going, but you don’t need to! Just think of any way that will allow this story to go from idea to draft. You may, as you’re writing the middle or the end, think of a the perfect way to the start the story, and that’ll get you going on the second draft.
Here’s a post I did for our NaNo blog about the fear of starting a new story, and another great post from our tags on writing first chapters.
Just start writing!