I asked the writing groups what they want from the first chapter in a novel.
Here is a selection of the answers:-
I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.
Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.
The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.
I tend to prefer a first chapter that falls into one of two categories.
The first is fully dimensional scene that involves action or activity that intrigues me. It should be related blow by blow with almost no exposition or flashbacks. There should be two or more characters, conflict and foreshadowing.
The second category has a strong authorial voice, maybe in first person, which summarises the lead character’s life up to that point. The style is similar to a fairy tale, draws me in and arouses my curiosity.
Here’s a list of other things people are looking for in a first chapter:-
- An original, intriguing hook
- Clever/beautiful language (eg. alliteration, metaphor)
- Shock tactics
- An original voice
- An engaging, welcoming voice
- An endearing character
- A cliff hanger
- A feeling of forward momentum
- The desire to continue reading
- Questions that need answering
Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel
- Bad grammar or spelling
- A setting I can’t identify with
- A character I can’t identify with
What about you?
Send me your thoughts about what you like or don’t like in a first chapter and I’ll add it to the page.