I volunteered at Stellarcon (a sci-fi convention my school puts on) where I was lucky enough to have the chance to attend a panel with professional authors Allen Wold, Janine K. Spendlove and Marilynn Byerly. They were all extremely knowledgeable, very kind and quite helpful. I took about two pages of notes in bullet point form from their panel and I thought it'd be good to put them up on here.
Isn't Fanfiction trash, shouldn't we be making our own stories?
Not at all, in fact Fanfiction is a great place to start, the best in fact. Play in someone else's world for a while and sharpen your skills and prepare yourself for writing your own tale. Lots
of writers got their start in fanfiction so don't be afraid to keep at it.
What's the big deal about the first chapter? Why should I care?
The first chapter is a big deal because it's the first chapter that sells the story just like the ending chapter sells the sequel. I like to try and give all stories at least one chapter to sell themselves.
What's in a Title
+A great chapter title is just as important as a great story title
+Ask questions in your chapter title
+For example the first chapter of Harry Potter is called the Boy Who Lived. Upon reading the
title the audience is left to wonder who is the boy who lived? What did he live through?
Why's he so special.
Hook, Line and Sinker
+Make sure your story has a hook, something that's going to draw the reader into the story.
Grab them and don't let them go
+This hook should appear within the first sentence or at most in the first paragraph.
+The first chapter should essentially be a bunch of minor hooks leading up to the major hook at the end.
+By the end of this chapter we should at lest have established a goal.
+ Be sure to leave questions to be answered
+As a rule of thumb, answer one question and leave two more.
Take it or Leave it. How to Revise Your Chapter.
+You will ALWAYS rewrite your first chapter
+ Very rarely if ever do authors ever get it right the first time, even professionals.
+DO NOT REVISE YOUR FIRST OR INDIVIDUAL ChAPTERS UNTIL YOU KNOW WHERE THE STORY IS GOING.
+The more time you spend revising the first chapter, the less appealing the other chapters
are going to seem unless you are willing to spend as much time revising the other
+Questions are key, a good chapter has more questions than answers
+Don't be married to an idea but don't be apathetic either.
+Remember: BE EMOTIONAL NOT EMOTIONALLY ATTACHED
+IF SOMETHING DOES NOT APPEAL TO YOU, THEN GET RID OF IT.
+If you don't care, your audience won't either.
+Everything serves the story. EVERYTHING
+If you add a detail about maybe a guy sitting on a park bench in the background reading,
make sure that guy is important later or you are just wasting everyone's time.
+For example in the first chapter of Harry Potter, Hagrid mentions having borrowed young
Sirius Black's bike to transport the baby Harry. We don't really think much about Sirius
for the rest of the story UNTIL he shows up AGAIN two books later as Harry's godfather.
Everything is relevant.
+Keep in mind that your audience are not idiots. You don't have to explain everything, in fact
it's best not to explain everything at once. Figuring things out as the story progresses is the
what makes reading so much fun.
+ Don't make your first chapter an info dump.
+Don't tell the audience things UNTIL they need to know them.
+Giving information too early or too late can ruin the flow.
+Tell the audience only what they need to know to get into the story, no more and no less.
+Remember that you can use actions to give information!
+ So, for example, if I wanted to say that a few guys were having a coke on a space yacht
two billion years in the future we could say person one is talking to person one as he is
looking out at saturn as it passes them by. Person one opens up a coke can and as the
foam begins to spill out the drink goes from a lukewarm to icy cold.
+When presenting information try to find a healthy balance between subtlety and obvious
+Work out the difference between writing for you and for your writers.
+Your audience wants questions to be solved as the story goes on. You are
probably looking for a reference for later chapters.
+ Write for your audience first then you.
+Exposition is good but only in moderation!
+As said by Robert Kernen "Exposition can be one of the most effective ways of creating and increasing the drama in your story. It can also be the quickest way to kill a plot's momentum and get your story bogged down in detail. Too much exposition, or too much at one time, can seriously derail a story and be frustrating to the reader or viewer eager for a story to either get moving or move on."
+ Info dumps or "idiot lectures" if they are given in character discussions are sometimes
used in the beginning of stories to give the premise of the story but they can be dangerous
because there's always the chance that the information given would be common
knowledge in their world or in their time. It ruins the realism and credibility of the work.
+Dribble information throughout the story.
Deleted Scenes and Information
+KEEP EVERYTHING YOU CUT
+You may be able to apply it later!
+ If you don't ever use it then keep it for the fans. Put it on your website as extra stuff. Fans
will go nuts.