What do I look for in a book and why is the first chapter so important?
Well, like most people, a book’s first impression on me is very important. And that first impression consists of three things – the cover, the blurb and the first chapter. Some may say that the author plays a big part, and this can be true… but quite honestly, if the first three give a good result, I don’t need to know who the author is. It often means I’ve just found a new author I like!
Which is the most important out of these three? The first chapter of course! The cover is just to grab your attention. The blurb merely the sales pitch to get you to open the book and read it. But that first chapter is the make it or break it moment. I will freely admit that if my interest is not captured in that first chapter, the book is a failure and gets put on my DNF (did not finish) pile. Admittedly, being the good natured soul I am I tend to give most books the first three chapters before I add to that pile, but that really is only if they pass that first chapter test.
Your first chapter doesn’t have to start with an explosion, big action scene, sex or any of the usual overhyped rubbish. Simply try and capture my mind with it. Sometimes it’s a slow, easy read that twist and tangles itself through my imagination so I don’t even realise I’ve past the first chapter, I’m so engrossed in the story. A good example of this is Mary Janice Davidson’s novel Undead and Unpopular. The opening line of the book is: “There’s a zombie in the attic.” George the Fiend informed me over breakfast.
That one line and how it was casually said got me interested. Then again this is one book in a series I had been reading for some time but it has always stuck with me as a punchy one liner that then goes right into the flow as if you’d been part of the conversation for long before the book started. Your imagination is snatched up and swept along with it and before you know it you’re in the middle of the book – way past the first chapter – and desperate to know how it all ends.
Other times it can even be how the first few lines read. Witty, enigmatic, suspenseful… some kind of emotional punch that makes me want to read on to see the how and why. But I do find if that emotional punch drags on to being a few jabs and a poke, I get bored and wander off.
Saying that, if you’re going to start with a punchy, witty, fantastic first line – keep it going at a good pace. Don’t put all your focus into the opening line and then drone on for the rest of the chapter. This is your make or break moment – show me what you’ve got!
I find one of the best ways an author can do this is to leave the last line of any chapter as a sentence just hanging there seemingly unfinished so that the reader simply must turn the page, start the next chapter and finish what was said.
Katie MacAlister is excellent at this. She always ends her chapters with an enticing sentence that gets that “One more Chapter” mantra going until you’ve found yourself reading until 3am.
I have had similar comments made about my own work and in my first book Bonnie’s Story: A Blonde’s guide to Mathematics it was the ending of my first chapter that got my publisher interested in publishing it.
Would you turn the page when a chapter ends so casually as: It was then that my world came to an end. Nothing too dramatic, just a sucking ‘pop’, and all I can surmise was left in the street was slowly dispersing smoke from his used Maths.
Actually, a first chapter is very much like a blog post. Start with a snappy title, capture the reader’s attention and keep it so they read the whole thing. They might then subscribe to your blog, they might check out what else you do. But you have their attention and they want to know more. Make it interesting, make it relevant to the title and ensure you make it sound like you know what you’re saying.
So grab a book today, be enticed by its cover, interested by its blurb and enthralled by its first chapter. Before you know it you’ll have finished the book. That is what makes a good first chapter.
Why am I talking about the importance of a first chapter? Because I’m lucky enough to have been chosen to be a judge for Freshly Squeezed in their latest C1Blitz. I get to read a lot of amazing and interesting first chapters to new YA works. Yes, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it…. and chocolate taster was taken. 😉
Head on over to Freshly Squeezed and check it all out.
Until next time,