#FirstChapterFriday September 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 September 2016.

First Chapter Friday #6 (September 2016)

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#FirstChapterFriday Face Value
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Face Value, Ian Andrew

Engaging first sentence?

It wasn’t the prettiest place to die.

I liked it; it told me that I was starting the story in the middle of an action scene so it probably wouldn’t be a boring or slow start. It also told me that this current situation was life-threatening without expecting me to care about the character.

Engaging first chapter?

Definitely. The description was excellent. Details were described in a way that didn’t break the narrative as they were relevant to the scene and contributed to the tone. I also got to see a lot of the character. This chapter showcased a number of her skills, which promises me that whatever central conflict arises, she isn’t going to be completely useless in her attempts to overcome it.

I was concerned that introducing the character in such a way seemed to be the only point of the scene, which might put some readers off given the nature of what happened. Readers are growing increasingly disapproving of violence against women that appears gratuitous and, even though the character defended herself against the assailant, character development is not the most favourable reason for having a female character almost sexually assaulted. Opinions on this issue vary, but it’s wise to be aware of what your target audience is saying about topics that arise in your stories so you can determine how readers will receive what you’ve written.

Edit: I’ve just reread the blurb of this novel, which suggests that this first scene will have consequences later in the story and that it did not fall into the problematic “have female protagonist kick ass of sexual predator to show how kick-ass she is” cliche. And now I’m excited about finding out what these consequences are.

Verdict?

I liked that there was action straight away but, as I’m seeing way too much, the conflict introduced in this chapter was resolved in this chapter. I was interested in the character, but not enough that I want to keep reading straight away without a hook to drag me forward. For that, I’m docking a point and this first chapter gets a 4/5.

Special thanks to Ian Andrew of Book Reality for sending me his book to be part of #FirstChapterFriday.

Update August 2017: I still haven’t read it.

#FirstChapterFriday 'salem's Lot
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‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King

Engaging first sentence?

Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.

Not the best. It didn’t conjure an image and it didn’t raise a question either. It just told me that an unrelated man and boy were together but I don’t know where, why, or why I should care.

Engaging first chapter?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used this book for #FirstChapterFriday because having seen the movie and read The Dark Tower, I was already interested.

The book started with a prologue, which might be necessary depending on what happens next. This prologue is divided into classic Stephen King sub-chapters, but this might not have been the best way to go because it slowed down an already slow series of events.

Overall, I enjoyed what was happening even if I wished it moved faster. Without outright telling the reader what happened to these characters, it is implied that they’ve recently been through something awful and have fled from what is now a ghost town.

Verdict?

Even though I know what happened in Jerusalem’s Lot, I was lapping up every word that hinted at what had happened. The prologue ended with the characters deciding to face the thing they’d run away from, the thing that has left the boy traumatised, and return to the town. I’m eager to know what happens next. But I’m docking a point for how slowly the prologue progressed so this first chapter gets a 4/5.

Update August 2017: I did read on. Didn’t finish, but did read on.

#FirstChapterFriday The Visitor
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The Visitor, Tony Harmsworth

Engaging first sentence?

No because I don’t like “I’m such and such and this is my story” type openings. Just start the story already!

The first sentence of the actual start of the story is much better.

I was strapped into a seat which had been moulded to the shape of my body.

It wasn’t particularly intriguing, but it allowed me to visualise something to invite me in straight away.

Engaging first chapter?

Big thanks to Tony Harmsworth, who kindly sent me the first chapter of his novel The Visitor to review for #FirstChapterFriday. I’m glad it came with an introduction, which is maybe the fifth book introduction I’ve read in a book that I wasn’t editing, but I’ll get back to this in a minute. Having read this introduction, I was intrigued by the premise and what it promised me about the central conflict of this book and was eager to get started.

There were a few places where the prose sounded clunky and robotic, but the point-of-view character quickly became real to me. The one-sentence description of how it physically felt for her to be in a spacecraft was vivid, and I shared her awe as she looked down on Earth because of how well her observations were expressed. The writing flowed better as the chapter went on and I was surprisingly not bored by the process of their shuttle docking at the International Space Station because the narration was consistent with the character’s voice. I didn’t feel like the author was trying to show off how much he knew about the process.

And then it ended, and I looked back on the chapter and found that it hadn’t accomplished anything but having the main character transported to the main story setting. It started with her on a shuttle on her way to the space station, and ended with her arriving. Rather than being eager to know what happened next, I was left wondering if the story started too early and, if I bought the entire book, how many chapters would I need to wade through before a problem arose? This chapter would have benefited from having a second scene that introduced a small-scale problem so that I could get on board with the character trying to solve it.

Verdict?

Had I not read the introduction, I’d probably have no interest in continuing because all that happened was a scientist moved to a space station and I’ve been given no reason to care. Seeing as many readers skip the introduction assuming it’s not part of the story, it’s really important for first chapters to have enough in them that it convinces readers to keep reading. I’m giving this chapter a 3/5 because the characterisation was good and the premise—scientist finds alien space junk orbiting Earth—could lead to wonderful things, but I wish there was more in the chapter so I felt like the story was starting.

Trial By Fire, Josephine Angelini

#FirstChapterFriday Trial by Fire
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Engaging first sentence?

Lily Proctor ducked into the girls’ room, already yanking back her rebellious hair.

It could have been worse. It certainly caught my attention because I knew she was about to throw up and that’s a not-so-classy way to introduce your protagonist, so it made her instantly relatable; however, that image was just as instantly ruined by her “rebellious” hair because it wouldn’t be a horridly cliche YA paranormal novel without a teenage girl who hates her hair. I bet she’s a redhead too. So this sentence didn’t set very high expectations for the rest of the chapter.

It might not be crucial to have a great first sentence, but bad first sentences do damage.

Engaging first chapter?

It started with the character facing her every day problems so I could get to know her and learn what her Weakness is. Then I found out she’s the weird girl (and a redhead) with the popular, good-looking player best mate who she’s been friends with since childhood. Sigh. I rushed through all the teenage melodrama because teenage melodrama. And there was this part of page 13:

They pulled into Lily’s driveway, Tristan’s face never even twitching to show that he’d registered what she’d said. 

“I’ll pick you up at seven for the party,” he said, then drove off.

I had to mentally edit this passage and add in the fact that at some point between pulling into Lily’s driveway and Tristan driving off, Lily got out of the car.

So then Lily was at home, where things became way more interesting and I could feel the central conflict bubbling. It was great, and I actually starting sinking into the story so I wish it had started ten pages later than it had.

Verdict?

I’m always complaining about so many first chapters being contained, with nothing spilling over into the second chapter for me to want to read about. This chapter was the opposite, as something was introduced in the first chapter that was going to be resolved in the second chapter. It gets points for that, and for its foreshadowing. I’m not too interested in reading any more because I don’t sympathise with her petty teenage romance problems, but I can’t dock points for it not being my cup of tea. This first chapter gets a reluctant 4/5.

Update August 2017: Haven’t read it.

#FirstChapterFriday All I Ever Wanted
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All I Ever Wanted, Vikki Wakefield

Engaging first sentence?

It’s easy.

I have no idea what’s easy; however, the first sentence was short enough that I didn’t form any opinions and went straight to the next paragraph, where I heard the character’s voice immediately.

Engaging first chapter?

Vikki Wakefield writes teenagers well. This character was real to me from the beginning, and voice is extremely important in YA books. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes about this sixteen-year-old girl being in love with a bad boy who looks like Leonardo DiCaprio, but I can get over it because this book starts with something happening. Further, the protagonist runs into a problem within the first ten pages. It did feel rushed, however, and I had to read it twice to make sure I was right about what had taken place.

Verdict?

3/5. While the character felt real to me, the fact that it was over in about five pages and written in present tense made it all feel hazy and hard to place myself in the scene, so I’ll dock a point for that. Otherwise, I know the character is up shit creek and I want to know how she’s going to get out of this serious problem of having her crush steal the drugs she was supposed to sell.

Update August 2017: Haven’t read it.

Louise

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