Sunday, November 18, 2012

First Chapter Blunders!

Why is it that some books draw you in and make you want to read more, while others are merely okay, or even flat? Although there can be many different reasons, a big one is what occurs in the first chapter, or how the story begins. A stories initial set-up can really make or break whether it draws in the reader and makes them want to engage. In the course of reading I’ve found that many novels, while they may have good middles and great endings, their first chapters lack pizazz.


Here are a few common first chapter mistakes:
1 – Boring Conversations – If within the first ten pages, the characters are having a long and dull conversation about everyday matters, some character we haven’t met (and don’t yet care about), or just a long conversation, I’m usually bored. Give me action and let me care about the characters, then they can converse all they want. To be sure, I’ve read novels with character conversations starting the book and have enjoyed the beginning, but they’ve always been done in such a way, where the conversation isn’t lengthy and other things besides talking are taking place.
2 – Lackluster First Lines – A first line isn’t everything, but the more intriguing the better. Don’t be weird or write something just to grab attention, but do be interesting. And if not the first line, then at least the first paragraph.
3 – Backstory – This is one that isn’t found alot in published novels, at least those written recently, but it's very common in unpublished manuscripts. Readers don’t need to be told everything right away. There should be mystery or a reason to read forward. Backstory is best dropped in as crumbs. Tiny bits here and there. You can have a bigger amount of backstory in the middle, but if there’s a lot in the first twenty pages, chances are your reader will skim, or worse yet, put the book down altogether.
4 – Confusion – On the flipside, there can be too little information, or too many characters. We don’t want to meet the whole cast by page twenty. Pick four or five characters and work on introducing those in chapter one. We want to get to know the main characters right away. Just like in a movie where we want to meet the people we’re spending two or more hours with in the first few scenes.
I generally do keep reading if I like the premise of a book, even if it has one or two of these elements. I’ll give it fifty pages and then reasses. But the truth is, most readers don’t. With the amount of books available, not to mention other media, the sooner you hook ‘em the better.
Next writing post I’ll give some techniques on how to write a stellar first chapter that will keep readers wanting more!
Happy Writing,

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