Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Chapters

The first chapter of a book is the most important chapter. It's what's going to hook the reader, make promises about the book and urge them to read on. It introduces characters that hopefully readers will want to follow through a book. So writing a good first chapter is hard.

With Assignment 9, I wrote and rewrote my first chapter about 100 times, if not more. In the end, I thought I had it just right. I introduced my MC and the romantic interest for her, hinted at what the conflict in the book might be, and then left the chapter with a cliff-hanger of sorts. But it didn't work. There was not enough action in the chapter to sustain it.

In Taillights, I've gone in a different direction. I've thrown the MC right into a horrific situation and left the reader to follow her as she figures out who, what and where she is. It's more action-packed, but you definitely don't get a very whole picture of who the character is, apart from in a flashback about two thirds of the way through the chapter. Yet several critiquers have told me to lose the flashback, that it drags them away from the action.

Without the flashback, you get no real idea of who Lucy is, other than someone lying on a dark road, trying to figure out how she got there and where the hell her parents might be. But does that matter? If the situation is intriguing, and you want to read on, does it matter that you don't have a good grasp on the character yet? It's one chapter. Over the course of the book, you obviously will get to know the character, and if by chapter three or four, you're not into that character, you can stop.

In my book, Lucy is one of two POV characters. And she's the less sympathetic of the two. I chose to open the book with her POV because hers is the more dramatic experience and after not having enough action in my opening chapter in A9, I decided to go all out with this one.

What are your thoughts about character vs action in an opening chapter? How do you balance the two? And what makes you want to read on?


  1. It is so hard to find the balance. Your reader has to like the MC, know them, feel for them, or else the reader won't care about the action that's happening to them. It's a very fine line. I'm having some problems with this issue, especially making my MC sympathetic right off the bat considering that shes an assassin.

  2. You're seeing this as an either/or, but it isn't. Action reveals character, that's its purpose. As long as the situation has more than one possible resolution, her choices will tell us who she is, as in the type of personality.

    On the other hand, if you are concerned about backstory, what kind of person she is, where she comes from, her key influences in life etc., then that stuff is immaterial at the start of the book. You can put it in there if you want, but nobody will miss it if you don't or if you put it in later.

    Moody Writing

  3. I read somewhere recently that a large number of the 'more popular' books open with a strong combination of both character introspection and action. The right character thoughts, even just a couple, in the middle of an intense action scene, can give the reader the exact reason they need to care.

    This is something I only just thought of...I'll have to go see if it's actually an effective thought...showing the character thinking about some random sympathy indcuing thing...stopping now ^_^

  4. I guess maybe a few random thoughts thrown in there might help... I just really wanted the reader to be in the moment with Lucy, discovering the things as she does without any guidance from her. At the beginning, her thoughts wouldn't be that coherent.... But maybe that will make her sympathetic.

  5. For me it changes depending on the book. Some are very action driven, and some, I just need in the main character's head.

  6. I find that the action is usualy what draws me into a book rather than character. You can develop a fantastic character but without a stimulating environment they may as well be flat. Personally i like to think of characters the same way i think about people. You don't know all about them when you first meet them, you need to spend time with them. I think people will deffinately hang around to find more out about a character as long as there is some incentive, some action, some mystery.