This workshop will concern itself with first chapters, because they are what the reader reads first. Its goal is to help participants produce the first chapter of a novel—or the first five pages of a longish short story—that they themselves would want to read if they stumbled across these pages in, say, a bookstore.

The first chapter is the doorway to the book. It is always a time machine: When are we? It is also always a come-on: Lure us in! Of course, in order to write the opening chapter you will have to know quite a lot about the world you are inviting us to enter: Who’s talking? Where is this voice situated in relation to the events we’re about to follow?

First chapters are also the key to structure: What sort of narrative arrangement is being used? Are we following events as they happen, or being told about them after they have occurred? And: Clues: How does a reader “know”? And: How much to tell, right at the beginning? How much is enough? Too much? Too little?

We will look at a few first chapters of already-published books to see how some other writers have handled their openings, and what we as readers learn about the world of each book just from its opening pages.


This workshop is open to writers with some experience who are writing or wish to write a work set in the nearish future on Planet Earth. Admission will be based on a writing sample. To be considered, please submit 5 double-spaced pages from the beginning or near the beginning of the book you are writing or want to write, a synopsis of its general parameters (where, when, who, what’s going on; no longer than a page), and a brief bio. Submit as a single word document to miles[at]kwls[dot]org with “Atwood Workshop Submission” in the subject heading.

About Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than 35 volumes of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, and The Blind Assassin, which won the 2000 Man Booker Prize. As demonstrated in her latest novel, The Year of the Flood (2009), Atwood has an uncanny knack for writing books that anticipate the preoccupations of her public. Her forthcoming collection, In Other Worlds: SF and The Human Imagination (October, 2011), brings together her 2010 Ellmann Lectures with some of her key reviews and introductions, and explores what science fiction has meant to her both as a reader and as a writer.