This week I started writing a new book. It’s one of the hardest and best parts of the writing process for me. It’s hard because you’re creating new characters, a new plot and you can easily get distracted when trying to make this book different to the past books you’ve written.
But it’s also one of the best parts of the writing process because it helps you lure your readers.
It sounds a little sneaky, but I can say that because I’m a reader, too. And since I was a reader long before I was a writer, I know the value of a good first chapter. When I look for new books to buy, I generally scan the first page – and if that intrigues me, the first chapter – to see whether the book would interest me. Often I pick up books by authors I’m not familiar with, so I use first pages and chapters to see whether I would enjoy the author’s writing style and the plot.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set down a book because of a bad first chapter.
If a book starts with a boring description of the setting, I set it down.
If it starts with an unlikeable character, I set it down.
If it starts with a controversial topic with the sole purpose of provoking the reader, I set it down.
I realised that my pickiness may be reflective of many other readers’ preferences, which made me think about how pivotal “firsts” are for authors. Now, I try to make my first line, first page and first chapter as intriguing as possible to captivate my reader, but I also make sure to use it as the foundation for my plot. For example, the first line of my work-in-progress is:
“You can’t possibly expect me to marry someone for this?”
I’m not sure whether or not this line will still be my opening line when I start revisions (hence the “work-in-progress”), but I thought it was a wonderful way to grab the reader’s attention. And since this book is supposed to deal with a marriage of convenience, it immediately alerts the reader to the main hook of the book. The first chapter then expands on this, introducing the characters and their respective conflicts in light of this hook, and ends off with a line I thought would as provoking as the first one.
Because I know how much first chapters mean, I spend a lot of time trying to get them just right. This involves a lot of writing and re-writing, but with each revision, I see a major difference. They make the chapter stronger and more exciting, and quite honestly, make me quite giddy (just ask my husband!).
Yes, they’re hard to write, especially when you’re just starting a new story. But when you see them as a chance to get people excited about your book, they become a fun part of the writing process. And as a reader, hopefully this post helps you to appreciate the first chapters you love even more!
Have you read or written a first chapter that you really love? Share which books they’re from in the comments and we’ll check it out!