First Chapter Friday #4 (July 2016)

#FirstChapterFriday July 2016 | Every Friday, I read the first chapter of a book I’ve never read before to learn how to write a first chapter that will make readers want to read chapter two. These are the lessons I learned in July 2016.

Don’t know what #FirstChapterFriday is?

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Another month has flown by, which means I’ve read another lot of first chapters for #FirstChapterFriday. What did I find out this month?

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Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard

Engaging First Sentence?

I hate First Friday.

It made me laugh, which had nothing to do with how good it was and everything to do with the use of “First Friday”.

It was also very Hunger Games. I don’t know what First Friday is but it’s clearly some sort of event. And the protagonist hates it, which means it’s going to have a role in turning her life upside down. Sounds like the Reaping to me. I might have had a minor eye roll, but I enjoyed The Hunger Games so I’m willing to stick around and see what happens.

Engaging First Chapter?

It’s not a prologue. *Cheers* *jumps for joy* *sheds a tear*.

The writing was great; it was descriptive while also showing action, which meant that I could get a feel for who the character was and what her world was like while the story moved along. (If you’re a regular here, you should know by now that I can’t stand it when the narrative stops for description.)

The story opens with the character picking pockets. I’m all for anti-heroes, but I’m also interested to know what this character’s redeeming qualities are. But it was also very Hunger Games so I’m a little concerned.

On page 2, the character reveals that she’s close to being conscripted by the army. While that simply intrigues me, it also sets up a motivation for this character and an expectation for me, the reader, that this is going to relate to the plot somehow.

Moving on, something happens. The character attends First Friday, where Aveyard reveals enough information for me to understand what I’m seeing without overexposing me to world building. The technique for doing this is as good as her earlier description in that she reveals information through the natural progression of her narrator’s thoughts. I never left the scene.

Verdict?

The First Friday event concluded and they all went home. The character’s life didn’t change at all, even in a minor way, which meant that there was no hook. I’m not interested in reading further because the chapter raised no issues that I want a solution to. And since so much time has passed since I read it and I haven’t considered picking it up again, I’m dropping my initial rating and giving this chapter 3/5. You gotta hook me.

Update August 2017: Still haven’t read it.

Nightfall, Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

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Engaging First Sentence?

Marin walked into the wind and felt it gently push back.

Not at all. It’s windy. Cool. Fascinating. Please tell me more about the weather.

Further, it uses a filter wordfelt. As this is my first impression of the writing, I don’t have high hopes for tight, vivid prose.

Engaging First Chapter?

I’d been looking forward to this book’s release ever since I saw the cover and read the summary. I thought it was going to be awesome. But after reading the first chapter, I doubt I’ll even pick it up again. It was boring, simple as that.

When I say “don’t stop the narrative to describe characters”, I mean don’t do this:

Everything would freeze—at least that’s what people at school said. In any case, by the time that happened, she’d be long gone, along with everyone else in Bliss. Only the buildings would remain, silent and empty, entombed in ice.

The wind flung Marin’s wavy black hair into her face. She was smaller than other girls her age, but she was stronger than most. Her arms and legs were long and well-muscled, the product of years spent climbing, hiking and sailing. She had honey-colored eyes, long lashes, and bronze skin—a striking combination, which she inherited from her mother. Her clothing, however, was plain and purely functional: waxed canvas pants, a raw denim shirt, and leather boots.

The first sentence of the second paragraph is fine because her features are interacting with the scene, but it’s jarring to be pulled out of the this scene with the next sentence. The scene dissolves when you do this and it’s then disorienting to be thrown back into it afterward.

Further, does it even matter what colour her eyes are or what her legs look like or what clothes she’s wearing? The first chapter’s job is to present me with the beginning of a story in a way that will make me want to read the rest. At this point, I don’t give a damn what she looks like. I want to know who she is and why she’s worth my time.

Verdict?

Nothing had changed by the end of the first chapter. It ended in the place that it started: winter is coming so the people have to migrate. All that happened in between was that the protagonist found a statue. 1/5. I might Google the plot to see if it gets more 30 Days of Night, but I’m not holding my breath.

Update August 2017: Still haven’t read it.

The Martian, Andy Weir

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Engaging First Sentence?

I’m pretty much f*cked.

Having read the blurb, I know what the central conflict is; however, I don’t know where the story starts so being “pretty much f*cked” could mean anything. And I don’t know who this guy is and why I should even care that he’s screwed. If I didn’t already know the plot was “stranded on Mars”, I wouldn’t have even raised an eyebrow.

Engaging First Chapter?

The next few pages clarified the narrator’s situation and now that I know what that is and know who he is, I can appreciate the sentiment expressed in the first sentence.

I also enjoyed his voice. The format of the book is in log entries, and anything like that needs a strong narrative voice because the writer is essentially taking on someone else’s identity. That identity needs to shine through the story because it’s what’s going to pull the reader forward. They need to feel like they’re reading about a real person experiencing a real thing or they’re not going to care.

From page one, I knew there was a person behind this text. Moreover, he was up shit creek but had a sense of humour.

Verdict?

It worked as a first chapter. It introduced the character and told me why I should give a damn about his story, and it told me what problem he’s facing so that I’ll want to keep reading to see how he gets out of it. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for success (he’s absolutely f*cked), which puts me off. I have nothing against negative story arcs, but there’s gotta be a shot for the character to succeed. On the other other hand, I have no idea what’s in store, and that excites me. 4/5.

Update August 2017: I went on to read it.

Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys

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Engaging First Sentence?

Guilt is a hunter.

It doesn’t tell me much, but I like it.

So I cheated with this book and read the first four chapters because I assumed they were meant to be read together to form the opening as they had similar opening sentences. This one was by far my favourite. The other “hunters” were fate, shame and fear and of all four, guilt is one I could picture in some way. It’s the most sinister and has more potential as a compelling motivation and internal conflict. I like the idea of a character haunted by their past.

Engaging First Chapter?

I don’t have much to say about it to be honest. The writing was lovely and it all played out in my head like a movie—a quick succession of different scenes that ended the same way. While the fourth chapter was a little backstory-ey, I do want to find out what happens next. Short first chapters that get to the point are my favourite.

Verdict?

4/5. I really do want to find out what happens next. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but I will pick this book up again.

Update August 2017: This one’s still sitting on my TBR stack.

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Elijah’s Mermaid, Essie Fox

Engaging First Sentence?

No. It was a newspaper headline, and not an interesting one.

Engaging first chapter?

No. The book opened with a newspaper article reporting on a woman found dead in the Thames. Look, not many people enjoy reading the paper for fun, and people find bodies all the time. It’s macabre, but it’s ordinary; therefore, it doesn’t catch my attention and it bored me because it was written in such a formal register. I suppose it made what followed easier to understand, but there were details that could have been cut from the article to make it shorter and easier to skim so I could get into the story.

I struggled to get through these ten pages. I stopped the first time I tried, and had to keep rereading parts two weeks later because it was such a mess to read. If your reader stops midway through your first chapter and doesn’t want to pick up your book again for two weeks, that’s not a good sign. There were three paragraphs describing the way a woman ran using different imagery; however, the way she ran or what she looked like was never important. The important thing was that people saw her fleeing toward the Thames, which she then flung herself into and drowned. I don’t want to stop–start–stop–start imagining the scene in three different ways before I even get to the point.

There also wasn’t any action—and here I’m just talking about movement—by page six, which caused me to zone out in boredom. Fox took way too long trying to set the scene. Her imagery might have been nice, but I stopped paying attention because I didn’t want to read a setting, I wanted to read a story. I wasn’t grounded by any action, so I kept drifting away. When I was supposed to picture a character, I missed the cue and had to reread the passage several times because it was difficult to concentrate. When I finally got around to picturing the character, it didn’t matter because she wasn’t doing anything except looking at a pier.

Eventually something started happening and as there was now a movie playing in my head, I could read properly; however, it was still a little unclear what was going on. I had an inkling that the character wasn’t physically present in the scene, but the details suggesting this were given such little attention that I was uncertain and confused. I thought I was misinterpreting a lot of things until this inkling was confirmed, at which point I felt like I needed to read the entire thing over again. But it wasn’t enjoyable the first time so why would I?

Verdict?

This book looks pretty on my shelf and I doubt it’ll ever leave again. 1/5.

Update August 2017: It still hasn’t moved from my shelf.


To join the First Chapter Friday discussion, post a photo of the first chapter you’re reading on Instagram using the tag #FirstChapterFriday and be sure to tag me, @Jackalediting.

Louise

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