Sophomore Seminars

First Chapters: Please Allow Me to Introduce My Novel


“It was a pleasure to burn."  -- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Novels (like people) only get one chance to make a good first impression. The opening chapter is that opportunity, and in this course we’ll read, examine, discuss, and write first chapters of novels. We’ll explore how an effective first chapter immerses us in the voice of the narrator, introduces a series of themes and problems, indicates character desires and fears, and most importantly enchants and inspires its readers.

We’ll read between 8-10 first chapters, including some chosen by students. Authors will include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mohsin Hamid, and Julianna Baggott. We’ll write short reaction papers and hold discussions in small and large groups. In the second half of the quarter, students will compose their own first novel chapter of around 8-12 pages, and we’ll workshop them in class. The final goal is to have a revised first chapter, a short outline for the rest of a book, and an increased knowledge of writing original and irresistible opening chapters.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Tom Kealey

"I teach a variety of creative writing classes at Stanford including Novel Writing Intensive, The Secret Lives of the Short Story, and Fiction Into Film. I’m the author of the story collection Thieves I’ve Known and the guidebook The Creative Writing MFA Handbook. I’ve been working on a trilogy of young adult/science fiction novels for the last few years.

"If you’re interested in reading one of my stories, there is one in Stanford Magazine --

"I enjoy teaching at Stanford, and I tend to write along with students, including the weekly exercises, and in this case an original opening chapter as well. We’re all in this learning experience together. I’ll hold a few short lectures, but mostly I enjoy and encourage discussions and writing activities during classes. I’m interested in what makes stories and novels tick, and I also like the intersection of literature and film."