Today we have Carrie Butler from So, You're a Writer over to discuss the importance of first chapters.
Carrie and I met a few months back via an ad I posted for critique partners. I definitely hit the jackpot with her. Not only has she turned out to be a super critter—she’s an incredibly talented writer and a great friend, too. (I wasn’t kidding when I said she frequently causes me to spray coffee all over my screen. = P) Unlike me, Carrie’s many writing strengths include beginnings. ; )
“What is the first chapter, Mr. Trebek?”
That is correct.
…Okay, so I’m not Alex Trebek. I’m not a game show host. I never even knew Merv Griffin. But I do know this: If you don’t nail your first chapter, your book could be in jeopardy. (Oh, I went there…)
Let’s say you have an MC named Jill. Starting out, you may feel tempted to lead with her backstory. After all, you need to explain why Jill doesn’t trust men, before she meets her love interest, right?
Sorry, but that’s incorrect. (Oopsie. Went Trebek again.)
Well-written books hook you from the first paragraph. They drop you in the middle of the day things change. Something’s going on, and you have to know what happens. So, what does that mean for your hypothetical manuscript?
Your readers want to tumble down the hill with Jill, as she curses her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Jack. They want to be there when she gets to the bottom and meets Julio—the sweaty, bare-chested groundskeeper. Show that pivotal moment. Entice them to read on. Give them a reason to turn the page!
I wasn’t kidding about backstory in the first chapter. If you bog it down with an info-dump, people are going to drop your book faster than you can say, “royalty loss”. Ease those details in. Lay out the dots, but let the reader connect them.
All of that said, you can’t cheat, either. Don’t start dropping bombs on your characters, only to lead them into a sweet romance. Give us unrealistic expectations and we’ll always be dissatisfied. Oh, and for the love of all that is right in this world, don’t start your book with a dream. They’re usually considered “false starts” and make the reader feel… well, cheated.
Let’s review for the blog skimmers. :)
- Start with a pivotal moment/the day things change
- Provoke curiosity
- Entice the reader
- Give unrealistic expectations
- Write a “false start”
Now get crackin’ on that first chapter! You can do it. I have faith in you. :)
Carrie is an aspiring novelist who graduated summa cum laude in marketing...so let’s gang up on her and drag her back to discuss promotion sometime. = ) Here’s where she hides:
Thanks, Carrie, for taking time to stop by and encourage fellow writers.
And thanks to all of you for visiting.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday. Author Nancy Kimball plans to visit with some tips on pacing.
See ya next week. ; )