If you want to write a novel that hooks a reader’s interest, then you had better write an engaging first chapter. But how exactly do you do that?
Since I’ve already provided resources on how to write a solid set of opening pages, and the big mistakes to avoid when writing your opening pages, I thought it would be fun to step back and analyze a first chapter of a popular published novel.
In today’s post, we’re going to look at the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. And we’ll look at the chapter in two different ways:
- Macro: How does this chapter give readers insight into what the story is about?
- Micro: How does each scene advance the plot and character development?
This way, you’ll be able to see the first chapter from a big picture lens and well as on the smaller, scene level, too. Ideally, you’ll be able to implement some of what you learn into your own first chapter as well.
A special note for listeners of the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast: In the episode that goes along with this blog post, I’m joined by an extra-special guest, and the host of the LitMatch podcast, Abigail Perry. If you want to hear our full discussion of this opening chapter, you can tune in on either one of our podcasts.
Want to see our analysis of the first chapter of the other Harry Potter books? Click here to check them out!
This opening chapter includes one complete scene that follows the Muggle Prime Minister. Here’s a summary of what happens:
In this scene, the muggle Prime Minister is waiting for a call from the President of a distant country, and he’s reading memos at his desk. His week has been TERRIBLE because there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, and he’s getting blamed since he’s in charge of the country. He hears a cough coming from a portrait on his wall, and long story short, the Minister of Magic is coming for a meeting, whether the Prime Minister likes it or not. So, the Minister of Magic, Fudge, shows up and we get some context about their relationship over these past few years and how Fudge has been showing up a little too much for the Prime Minister’s liking lately. But anyway, Fudge is here with some news–Voldemort is back, and he’s the one behind all the bad things and chaos that’s happening right now–well, him and his Death Eaters and the dementors. Fudge also tells the Prime Minister that the world is officially at war now that Voldemort’s back. But then, to make matters worse, Fudge has been sacked! And now there’s a new Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimegor. And oh, by the way, Fudge says, he’s about to come through that portrait to meet you right now, too. So, he does, and the Prime Minister and Scrimegor meet. And finally, the Prime Minister explodes and says, why can’t you guys sort this out! You can do magic! And Scrimegor ominously replies that the other side can do magic, too.
Now, when analyzing any opening chapter, whether it's from a published novel or a messy first draft, the first thing I look for is a glimpse of the big picture. So, what is this story really about?
As writers, we need to set expectations in the beginning of our stories, and then work to deliver on those expectations throughout the middle and end. In other words, we need to show readers exactly what kind of story they’re in for, and then deliver that story scene by scene.
Let’s take a look at how J.K. Rowling did this in this very first chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And to do this, we’re going to use seven questions from Paula Munier’s book, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings.
1. GENRE: What kind of story is it?
I like to look at genres two ways–commercial vs. content genres. For this first question, I usually think in terms of the commercial genre. So, where would this novel sit on a shelf in a bookstore? And how does this first chapter set up the readers’ expectations from a commercial genre standpoint?
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a young adult fantasy novel. Harry is now 16 years old, and the conflict he has to deal with has escalated yet again from the previous five books. In this opening chapter that follows the Muggle Prime Minister, we get a recap of everything that Harry (and the Wizarding World) has had to deal with these last five years–especially now that Voldemort has officially returned. And just like in the last book, there’s a stronger emphasis on romance than in the first four as well.
2. PLOT: What is the story really about?
For this question, I like to look at the content genre of the story. So, what is the story really going to be about? And Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a combination of the action (external) and worldview (internal) content genres, just like the previous five books in the series. However, in this book, Rowling manages to raise the stakes even higher than the previous five books! Harry gets into dangerous situations more often, and many more characters die–including Dumbledore!
In the opening chapter, Rowling shows us that all hell has broken loose now that Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and the dementors essentially have free reign. It’s a dangerous world out there, not just for Harry and the wizarding community, but for the muggles, too. The world is officially at war, and no one is safe. And once again, we have the perfect setup for an action/worldview story–a) there will still be life or death stakes in this story, b) the final confrontation will still occur between Harry and Voldemort, and c) this time, the story is going to involve someone called the Half-Blood Prince (we know this from the title).
3. POV: Who is telling the story?
This chapter follows the perspective of the Muggle Prime Minister who gets forced into an impromptu meeting with Cornelius Fudge (and then Rufus Scrimegor). Just like the previous five books, Rowling starts with a more omniscient narrator and then zooms us into the point of view character that we should be following into the scene (which in this case, is the Muggle Prime Minister). The rest of the story will follow Harry Potter from a limited third-person perspective.
4. CHARACTER: Which character should they care about most?
Rowling has set up this chapter to make us care about so many different people! Of course, we always care about Harry Potter (since he’s the main character), but also–it’s pretty hard not to worry about Harry after all he’s been through in books one through five. Voldemort still wants to kill Harry, and now he’s even more motivated by the prophecy he learned about in book five. Not only that, but Voldemort and his followers are attacking both Wizards and Muggles alike–so, in this chapter, we start to worry about the larger world (outside of Harry, Ron, and Hermione), too. Beyond that, we also feel a little bit bad for Cornelius Fudge (he got fired) and the Muggle Prime Minister (he’s getting a lot dropped on him at once). That’s a lot to accomplish in one chapter!
As readers, we’re wondering things like… When will Voldemort show up and try to kill Harry? What’s going to happen to Harry when he goes back to Hogwarts? How far will Voldemort go to take action on the prophecy? And things like that… Which is exactly what Rowling answers for us throughout the rest of the story.
5. SETTING: Where and when does the story take place?
This chapter takes place in the Muggle Prime Minister's office in London. Through Fudge’s recap of recent events, we hear about places in the larger world, including Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. At this point in the series, we can assume the rest of the story will take place at Hogwarts, as usual.
6. EMOTION: How should readers feel about what’s happening?
There are three main emotions I think we all feel when reading this first chapter–curiosity, concern, and wonder. This is consistent with the rest of the series, however, we feel much less wonder in this opening chapter than in previous books. The primary emotion in this scene is concern–we’re worried about Harry (and the entire world) now that Voldemort is on the loose, causing chaos. We’re also worried about Harry because of the prophecy in book five that says, “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…” We know we’re approaching a huge faceoff between Voldemort and Harry–we just don’t know when or how it’s going to happen. If you consider the rest of the book (and how much darker the series has been getting), these are the perfect feelings to evoke in readers from page one.
7. STAKES: Why should readers care what happens next?
We care about what happens next because we know Voldemort wants to kill Harry Potter. Again, it’s not a question of if Harry will come face to face with Voldemort, it’s more a question of when. Based on the setup in this opening chapter, we worry for Harry and hope he’ll survive yet another encounter with the Dark Lord–especially now that Voldemort has a) heard the prophecy, and b) has amassed a large amount of followers. Because of all that, we keep reading to see how everything will turn out.
So, as you can see, Rowling definitely gave us a glimpse at the big picture of this story–we know that it’s going to be about a young wizard named Harry Potter, we know it’ll have something to do with the Half-Blood Prince (from the title), and we know that another confrontation with Lord Voldemort is inevitable.
Now, let’s dig into the structure of the scene within this first chapter so we can see how and why everything works. To do this, we’re going to use the scene structure I laid out in this article. If you’re a fan of The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne, you will recognize this structure.
Chapter #1 - Scene #1: The Muggle Prime Minister
In this scene, the Muggle Prime Minister wants to get through some reports or some paperwork while he waits for his next meeting to start. So, let’s look at the conflict that gets in the way of his goal in this scene:
- Inciting Incident: The portrait on the wall announces that the Minister of Magic wants to meet with the Prime Minister.
- Turning Point: Fudge tells the Prime Minister that Voldemort is back–he’s alive.
- Crisis: How should the Prime Minister respond to this?
- Climax: The Prime Minister asks Fudge about Sirius Black because, last he heard, Black had escaped and was possibly trying to join Voldemort’s forces. He wants to appear in-the-know (and not like a complete idiot who knows nothing).
- Resolution: Fudge tells the Prime Minister that they’re at war! And that all of the bad stuff the Prime Minister has been dealing with is due to Voldemort, the Death Eaters, and the Dementors. He also mentions that there’s a new Minister of Magic, and the Prime Minister meets him–Rufus Scrimgeour.
So, what has changed in this scene?
The main thread we’re tracking in this scene has to do with the Prime Minister and this meeting he’s waiting for. The main conflict surfaces when the Minister of Magic rearranges the Prime Minister’s schedule and takes the meeting for himself. The Minister of Magic updates the Prime Minister on EVERYTHING bad that’s happened lately and says that Voldemort is back and we’re at war. So, learning this news has informed the Prime Minister of the danger he (and the rest of the world) is already in. This closes the loop on all the questions the Prime Minister was asking himself at the beginning of the chapter re: why all these terrible things are happening. It also tracks on the global value spectrum via the information that gets relayed.
Can you see how this scene moves the plot of the story forward and impacts Harry? And how ultimately, this first chapter does everything that a first chapter should do?
I encourage you to look at your first chapter through this macro and micro lens to make sure that you’re delivering enough of the big picture to your readers. This is also a fantastic exercise to do with the opening chapter of your favorite novels, too. You will learn so much and your writing will improve as a result.
Coming soon: our analysis of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Want to check out our analysis of the first chapter in each of the Harry Potter books? Click here to see the exact same breakdown for the other five books! Enjoy!
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An enchanted portrait requests an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister on behalf of Cornelius Fudge. The Prime Minister isn't too excited about this potential meeting, but he doesn't really have a choice in the matter. Cornelius is flustered. He has recently been replaced as the Minister of Magic by Rufus Scrimgeour.
First Plot Point: Once at Hogwarts, Harry is asked by Dumbledore to let Professor Slughorn “collect” him as a prize student, so Harry can gain information about Voldemort. Harry discovers an old textbook belonging to the “half-blood prince” and uses it to gain knowledge about potions, among other things.
Confronting the Past
Overcoming one's past is a key theme in Half-Blood Prince. Often in the series, characters suppress their memories due to shame, fear, or pain. Harry has already dealt with the pain of losing his parents, his godfather, and even Cedric.
The last four titles in the series, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows, must have the words “First Edition” printed on the copyright page.
PETER PETTIGREW - BETRAYED HARRY
Wormtail was the one who told Lord Voldemort where the Potter's were staying so if it wasn't for his actions, Harry wouldn't have grown up as an orphan. He also betrayed Harry by spying on him for years, pretending to be Ron Weasley's pet rat Scabbers.
Summary: Chapter I
The novel's narrator says that when he was six years old, before he became a pilot, he saw in a book a picture of a boa constrictor devouring a wild animal. In the same book, the narrator read that boa constrictors must hibernate for six months after swallowing their prey in order to digest it.
Snape was born to Eileen Prince, a witch, and Tobias Snape, a Muggle, making him a half-blood (hence the name, "Half-Blood Prince"). This is rare for a Death Eater, as remarked in the last book, though Voldemort himself also had a Muggle father.
Out of desperation, Harry used it on Malfoy, as Malfoy was preparing to hit Harry with the Cruciatus curse. It apparently causes the caster's wand to act as a very long knife, thus resulting in the target getting huge cuts across their body.
Part of the Second Wizarding War
Florean Fortescue is murdered. Garrick Ollivander is kidnapped.
- Good vs. Evil. ...
- Love and Friendship. As in the previous Harry Potter novels, Harry's friendship with Ron and Hermione is central to his life and his efforts to defeat Voldemort. ...
- Coming of Age. ...
- Family. ...
- Politics and Paranoia.
Love is a strong theme throughout the books; if you love someone completely it can never be undone. Lily's love for Harry granted him protection and Snape's love for Lily shaped his path after her death. True love lasts forever.
States first edition under publishing page It has a printing error on page 99. It states 'eleven owls' when in fact it should say 'ten owls' – Comes complete with the rare Bloomsbury release bag – not many of these around!
Generally speaking, if the “1” is present, the book is a first edition (first edition, first printing). For the second printing, the “1” is removed, so the “2” is the lowest number present. For example, a number line that reads 5 6 7 8 9 indicates a fifth printing.
The main characteristics of a 1997 first edition first issue are a print line that reads 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 and the crediting of "Joanne Rowling", not JK. Prices on AbeBooks vary from $40,000 to $55,000. A handful of advance proof copies are available from $7,500 to $13,500.
One night, while Harry is keeping watch, a silver doe Patronus appears and leads him to the Sword of Gryffindor, buried beneath the ice in a pond. Harry dives in, and the locket Horcrux around his neck tries to strangle him. Ron, who has returned, saves Harry, recovers the sword, and destroys the locket.
She even attempted to explain the mysterious ways of girls to him when he was fifteen. Yet at sixteen, Harry picked Ginny Weasley to be his romantic partner. Why was Ginny "the One?" The explanation is very simple - Harry has a very strong sexual desire for Ginny.
ems Harry burnt Quirrell's face when he touched it. That worked because when Lily was killed, she had tried to protect Harry and therefore gave him the most powerful weapon against Voldemort; Love.
The narrator, a pilot, discusses his childhood attempts at drawing a boa constrictor eating an elephant.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The Little Prince teaches that the responsibility demanded by relationships with others leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of one's responsibilities to the world in general. The story of the prince and his rose is a parable (a story that teaches a lesson) about the nature of real love.
Harry himself is a half-blood, since his pure-blood father, James, married a Muggle-born witch named Lily, and his maternal grandparents were Muggles.
A doe. And in his final battle with Lord Voldemort, Harry explained the significance of this to his adversary, and to us: 'Snape's Patronus was a doe,' said Harry, 'the same as my mother's, because he loved her for nearly all of his life, from the time when they were children'.
In the film, Snape, played by the late Alan Rickman, asks Harry, 'Tell me, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood? ' While the complexity behind the Potions question went completely over our heads, it turns out that it was very important to the story.
In Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort kills Snape using his snake Nagini instead of his favorite spell Avada Kedavra - here's why.
Avada Kedavra is an Aramaic phrase that means "I will destroy as I speak." Whether the words were chosen to be similar to the Muggle mock incantation "abra cadabra" is uncertain, but seems likely.
In the films, Sectumsempra appears as a small flash of white light which causes a cut when it strikes the target. In LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, Harry uses Sectumsempra on Malfoy only to find out the spell has, apparently, painlessly sliced him in half.
June 13, 1942: Tom Riddle murders Myrtle Warren (a.k.a. Moaning Myrtle) in the first-floor girls' bathroom at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, sending a piece of his soul into his diary. It becomes his first Horcrux.
Occasionally, Slughorn's greediness works out for the best. When Draco sends a bottle of poisoned Mead intended for Dumbledore, Slughorn keeps it for himself.
Ron (Rupert Grint) locks lips with Lavender ( Jessie Caves) in a scene from Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince. In these sneak peek scenes from the new movie the young wizard gets to grip with classmate at a party in Gryfindor dorm. Ron and Lavender end up kissing after they celebrate his win at Quidditch.
Death. Death is one of the most major themes in Harry potter's books. The author J.K.Rowling once stated, 'My books are largely about death.” There are various deaths throughout the story.
Magic, Difference, and Belonging
The series tracks an epic battle between good and evil in the wizarding world, but the first book is, in its essence, a coming-of-age story. Harry spends his early life feeling different from the non-magical people (“Muggles”) around him, though…
According to Rowling, the main theme is death. Other major themes in the series include prejudice, corruption, and madness.
A theme is an important idea that is woven throughout a story. It's not the plot or the summary, but something a little deeper. A theme links a big idea about our world with the action of a text.
An author's message is the "big idea" of the text or a part of the text. It is what the author wants the reader to learn or take away from reading the text. There may be more than one message in a text. A life lesson: The moral, or lesson, that stories like fables are trying to teach readers.
This theme at the core of Rowling's wizarding world speaks directly to a universal human reality: The struggle to come to terms with our mortality. Death is obviously big in Harry Potter.
He said, "According to Victorian flower language, asphodel is a type of lily meaning 'my regrets follow you to the grave' and wormwood means 'absence' and also typically symbolizes bitter sorrow." If you combined that, Snape's words mean "I bitterly regret Lily's death."
I think it's implied that there's a Disillusionment charm to hide it, meaning that only Wizarding families can see it. However, Platform 9 3/4 has never been formally declared as hidden from Muggles by the Ministry of Magic in canon.
The muggles in this case were Petunia, Vernon and their son Dudley, and by telling Harry “Don't let the Muggles get you down”, Ron meant to tell his best friend to not be upset with their behavior and tried to encourage him not to let them treat him so badly.
Primarily because a first edition is the physical manifestation of a particular moment in the life of a novel, and it can also reflect a significant time in the wider culture. To begin with, writers often participate in the production of the first edition.
The printer's key, also known as the number line, is a line of text printed on a book's copyright page (often the verso of the title page, especially in English-language publishing) used to indicate the print run of the particular edition.
Most valuable Harry Potter books.
|HARRY POTTER BOOK||VALUE||NOTES|
|Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince||< $250 up to $5,000||First edition|
In December 2021 a near pristine hardback first edition of Philosopher's Stone sold for $471,000 (£349,186) from a $70,000 estimate at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, USA. It's the highest price ever paid for the boy wizard's debut in any form and set a modern literature world record.
The 1/1 copies of these books are quite rare and are priced from $65 to $1,500. Prisoner of Azkaban is especially rare and is usually priced between $1,500 and $2,000. There were only 7,000 copies printed. There were 12,000 copies of the 1/1 Philosopher's Stone and 17,000 of the 1/1 Chamber of Secrets printed.
These copies could be worth tens of thousands of pounds. To spot if you've got a very rare edition of the first book, look on page 53 where "1 wand" should be printed out twice in a list of things Harry needs for Hogwarts.
In Chapter One of A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the narrator, Gene Forrester returns to his alma mater. Here we see the adult Gene looking back on his experience at Devon 15 years later. We're transported back in time to Gene as a 16-year-old boy with his roommate, Finney.
Piggy tries to join them as well, but Ralph tells him he can't come along. Piggy is hurt and humiliated, not just at Ralph's rejection but also because Ralph told all the other children that his name was Piggy, after he told him that he didn't want to be called that.
Krakauer has arrived at the summit of Mount Everest with Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian climbing guide, and Andy Harris, a guide on the New Zealand team to which Krakauer belongs. He takes some photographs with Harris and Boukreev, and then, after less than five minutes, the trio begins their descent.
Chapter 1 Summary
Tony's mother, Mrs. Zabrinsky, began babysitting Joel when he was six months old, so the two boys have grown up together. As the book begins, Tony makes a wild suggestion to his friend Joel: climb the Starved Rock Bluffs, a treacherous, sheer river bluff located at the state park.
That day Finny wears a very un-Devon bright pink shirt, and its unconventional color draws Gene's attention. The shirt, Finny insists, is an "emblem" — a celebration of the first Allied bombing of Central Europe.
Blitzball. Blitzball is a metaphor for the war, the school, and for the character's response to the things that are happening around them. Blitzball is a game that is made up by Finney on the spot. Just like life around them, the rules keep changing and the teams keep changing.
Chapter 1 begins with Matty impatiently cooking dinner with his adopted father, a blind man called Seer. Matty is eager to check on something in a clearing by the Forest. After dinner, Matty walks by his old schoolteacher's house hoping to see the man's daughter, Jean, whom he has a crush on.
Roger, the character least able to understand the civilizing impulse, crushes the conch shell as he looses the boulder and kills Piggy, the character least able to understand the savage impulse.
In The Muppet Show episode 106, Piggy is referred to by the full name "Piggy Lee" and in episode 116, Piggy tells guest star Avery Schreiber that Piggy is short for "Pigathius", "from the Greek, meaning 'river of passion'".
On a very basic level, the scar is the path that the boys' wrecked plane has cut across the island. Literally, it is the plane's crash site. As chapter one begins, we meet our protagonist, Ralph, and the novel describes the scene as follows: 'All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.
“Melted into thin air” refers to something that has completely disappeared, so completely that it is as if it has become part of the air around us, and has not left a trace.
When he begins, he is worried not about the clouds, but about his rapidly dwindling supply of oxygen.
idiom. : to disappear completely in a way that is mysterious. The papers seem to have vanished into thin air.
- Introduce the main character in the first paragraph. ...
- Present a problem for your protagonist to wrestle with in Chapter One. ...
- Hint at or describe the “back story” in your novel. ...
- Always write in the active voice.
In Chapter 1 of The Pearl, Kino and Juana wake up and get ready for the day, but their son, Coyotito, is stung by a scorpion. They try to get the doctor to come to them, but he will not, so they go to him. The doctor refuses to see the family because they are Indigenous people and do not have money.
Definition of on one's honor
—used to say that one promises to do something On my honor, I will do my duty.