Each chapter of a novel usually has an opening paragraph, or an introductory passage, that lends a flavor to the setting essential for the action that will follow.

How to make the descriptions more bang-on and flowing despite detailing?

I want to pull it off without sounding like a show-off or having plucked it off wikipedia.

  • 3
    What makes you think that every chapter (or even any chapter) has to have such an opening paragraph? I've read many books where chapters start in the middle of an action scene, or with dialogue, or even just talking about what the main character is doing. Yes, there might be hints to the setting, but it doesn't have to be a full descriptive paragraph with nothing else going on. Jul 29, 2020 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


The opening paragraph for the entire novel definitely ought to be something for which you are specifically aiming at bang-on and flavorful, leading into the setting that will start off the first action. But as a writer, I would not recommend that it is necessary to attempt something overly grand at the introduction of every chapter.

Here are some guidelines I would follow.

A. First, the point of an introduction is to familiarize your reader with the character(s) and setting of your story. Thus, if your new chapter is following a chapter with the same character(s) and the same setting, it is simply best to continue it from the previous chapter without attempting an intro of any kind. Just carrying on with the story will flow the best.

Example: At the end of chapter 7, Ruby has gone to bed. Chapter 8. Ruby groggily checked her watch as she put it on. Good - it isn't 6 AM yet.

Example: At the end of chapter 22, Leo and Tom are hanging from the edge of a cliff. Chapter 23. "I can't feel anything," grunted Tom.

In these examples, I am showing you how the chapters don't really need any kind of introduction if you are continuing the same story in the same setting with the same characters. It flows best if you keep writing where you left off, almost as if there is no chapter break, just a paragraph break. But there are times when you do want an intro in your new chapter!

B. If your next chapter switches to a different character (or characters) or changes settings drastically from your last chapter (such as if a different dimension has been entered, or a great amount of time has passed), you will need to make some introduction.

Example: At the end of chapter 7, Ruby has put herself to sleep telling stories, and has been carried to bed. Chapter 8. Lily had been sitting in her grandmother's armchair for the past two hours sifting through the photo albums. It was nearly time to make dinner - but one of the photos caught her eye. It pictured her grandmother, asleep in the blue tapestry armchair Lily had kept. It reminded her of how her Grandmother Ruby used to sit in it to tell her brothers stories at bedtime, but she'd put herself to sleep before she finished!

Example: At the end of chapter 22, Leo and Tom are hanging from the edge of a cliff. Chapter 23. Christa slammed the phone onto her desk and wanted to do the same with her head. Today was the exact opposite of what she needed after Tom's night shift. She was relieved he would be home tonight, but first she had to get through her shift.

In these examples, I am showing you how you need to make an introduction when you are switching scenes in a new chapter. These examples are a lot longer because I have put more detail in them, since they need more explanation to show exactly what's going on here. The story is not just picking up where it left off last time, we are being introduced to a new place and new people, or switching to a different place with different people.

Now onto the juicy part.

How to create these intros where they are necessary?

I would completely agree with DM_with_secrets' comment on your question where he asks if this is even necessary. As I have been iterating above, sometimes you need it, but it really depends on the effect you want to give your reader. Stories can flow just fine without trying to write an introduction for each chapter, even when you are switching scenes. Often, the less is said, the more is felt. Sometimes, you want to produce some dramatic effect, such as transitioning into a dream without your reader realizing it, or the opposite, such as the character receiving dreadful news and not knowing what reality is, and realizing it was all real all along and his life is a wreck. In these cases, the less you say, the less your reader will find out until you decide to open their eyes! Nevertheless, I will try to give you a couple of tips for making intros if and when you do.

  1. Don't try too hard! It's better to jump right into the story than to have some perfunctory passages to read through that will lose your readers' interest.
  2. Try starting with one of these four things, and see if you like how they sound as an opening: Dialogue (maybe an exclamation, such as Lord Peter Wimsey's "Oh, Damn!"), Name (Filbert did such a thing at such a time with a hoarse guffaw), Prepositional Phrase (something catchy? "In a hole, in the ground, there lived a hobbit" or "Towards the mountains, they could see rain graying the skies" etc.), or a sentence about your subject that simply makes no sense by itself ("That was it." "He never smiles." "His dog started it." etc.) and then explain it.
  3. You're right - too much detail bores everyone (Ahem, myself!). Instead of filling an introduction with details about your subject - spread them out, possibly using one of these methods: Distractors (write about other things, people or events, using them as excuses to bring out all kinds of things about the quality of your subject as quickly or slowly as you like), Actions (let your characters' actions reveal things about the subject), Dialogue (again! Dialogue is irreplaceable if you like writing it, and you can really detail a subject through the means of conversation).
  4. What if there's a ton you want your reader to know right away? You can put more information in the introduction while staying interesting by having your character give an introduction or be introduced in whatever setting you need to provide your reader with that info; maybe an intelligence agency is investigating him and reading off his profile. Maybe the hostess is introducing her as a speaker to the Cauliper women's writing club on the planet Shaod. You can also just write something about Mabel Minck, who was a 26-year-old woman from Bismark, who loved to paint with watercolor and acrylic when she wasn't interning at the veterinary lab, and go from there. I recommend this not so much, but it's an option). Anything!
  5. Something that might help is doing different things with each chapter. for example, if you started Chapter 6 with Angus' name at the beginning of the sentence, start chapter 7 with somebody's dialogue, and then perhaps chapter 8 with the noise the neighbor was making that woke him up from his nap, just to change things up.

Just to sum up: if you aren't switching between characters or settings in a new chapter, you don't really have anything to introduce, and your story will flow best without any intro in your opening. If you are switching, figure out what you really need your reader to know, and keep it as short and spread out as possible so that you have the freedom to keep the story moving, flowing, interesting.

And finally (I can never ever say this enough) - writing is an art! There are so many styles out there, so much artistic freedom, so many possibilities to explore! I'm sure people with other comments will be able to offer more and better advice, this is some of what I can share from what I've learned so far (I still have lots to learn) and I hope it's a help.

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