First Chapter Friday #1 (April 2016)

#FirstChapterFriday April 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 April 2016.

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Coraline, Neil Gaiman

First Chapter Friday Coraline
Instagram @jackalediting

Engaging First Sentence?

It’s great. It gets to the point instantly, and is so succinct that I can’t even summarise it, so I’ll just quote it:

Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.

The door” says it all. Gaiman could have written Coraline discovered a mysterious door a little while after they moved into the house, but “the door” says even more with fewer words. “The door” means that this door is important, plot-related, and the whole point of the book. Regardless of whether or not the book lives up to it, this first sentence promises that the plot of this book revolves around “the door”. It made me want to keep reading to see where the door led.

Engaging First Chapter?

After ten pages, I already know Coraline and I adore her. It’s written in third person and there are filter words here and there, but most of the sentences are written in her voice, bringing her character to life. The chapter establishes a status quo–Coraline and her parents have moved into a new house–and introduces the reader to the characters. It ends with more mystery surrounding that door. If the reader wants to know how it opened–she was sure her mother shut it–they’ll have to read on.

Verdict?

4.5/5, will read on. I like the character, am intrigued by the mystery (okay, I’ve seen the movie so I know what happens, but it’s still interesting), and the writing flowed.

Update August 2017: I read and thoroughly enjoyed Coraline not long after reading this first chapter thanks to it hooking me like it did.

The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

#FirstChapterFriday The Lie Tree
Instagram: @jackalediting

Engaging First Sentence?

No, it had an odd simile that pulled me straight out of the book as I tried to work out how chewing on a rotten tooth had any rhythm to it.

Engaging First Chapter?

Apparently not. I initially thought it was interesting enough to read the next chapter according to my original Instagram post, but I can’t remember much of what happened. With my second look, I found the text stilted because it doesn’t use contractions and I still can’t find a hook.

Verdict?

3/5, might at least read the second chapter. There just wasn’t enough in it to interest me. The characters were dull and I don’t care enough about them to seek answers to the questions raised.

Update August 2017: I haven’t touched this book since reading the first chapter, which I no longer remember a thing about. The first chapter didn’t do its job for me.

The Girl From the Well, Rin Chupeco

Instagram @jackalediting

Engaging First Sentence?

You’d want to hope so, considering it seems to be a marketing point. It was appealing because it was dark; however, the first few paragraphs were a little confusing. I understand what Cupeco means by I am where the dead children go, but the first page was a jumble of ideas that weren’t properly connected and, therefore, didn’t exactly support my understanding. The first sentence alone was intriguing, but this intrigue died by the end of the page.

Engaging First Chapter?

I loved it! After getting over the hurdle of the first page, I thought the rest of the chapter was great. The haunter’s perspective is one I haven’t read before and I often get frustrated with ghost movies because the ghosts do things that are more annoying than terrifying. But this was different somehow. And it was CREEPY! I’m glad I read it in daylight.

Another thing I appreciated was the way the information was delivered. Chupeco withheld a lot of explanation and delivered what was important through the point-of-view character’s thoughts and observations. There was a time or two when I was slightly confused about something, but I generally liked observing things myself rather than being told exactly what was going, exactly what this character was and exactly what her purpose was.

Verdict?

4/5, I’m going to read the rest of it now that I’ve finished the other book I was reading. The only thing I didn’t like about the first chapter was that there was no hook. Everything was fascinating to read, but it ended and there weren’t any unanswered questions that would be just as interesting staying that way. It could have been a short story.

Update August 2017: I read this book straight after being drawn in by the first chapter. It was enjoyable, but it wasn’t great. Clearly, a good first chapter doesn’t mean the rest of the book will be good; however, it did get me to keep reading. If I hadn’t already spent the money, I would have bought the book based off its first chapter.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Salisbury

Instagram @jackalediting

Engaging First Sentence?

Similar to The Girl From the Well, I liked the first sentence of this book because it was dark and I guess I like dark things. It didn’t do anything more than set the mood (unlike TGFTW, I wasn’t like “okay but what does that mean?”), but it did get me to read the second sentence.

Engaging First Chapter?

Can I split it and rate each half?

The beginning of the chapter excited me. Also like TGFTW, the author gave only enough information for the reader to understand what was going on, leaving me asking a buttload of questions. The action started straight away, with two engrossing action sequences (I don’t mean fights or car chases, I mean the character was doing something) that had me hooked. But as soon as these events were over and I made notes about how great the first chapter was so far and how there was zero info dumping and I was really interested to see where this was going, it started raining backstory.

I was happy not knowing what “Daunen Embodied” meant because I didn’t need to know right now and I’d figure it out later. I was happy guessing why no one would touch the main character because it was almost obvious and I’m not an idiot. I was over the moon about not knowing the backstory of the gods because I didn’t care. I still don’t. It doesn’t help me understand anything that I read. Maybe that info will be useful down the track, but right now I don’t need to know it so it was dull reading.

Verdict

This is a hard one. I’m going to balance the chapter out and give it a 3.5/5. I really enjoyed the first half, so I’m going to keep reading and hope the rest of the book follows this style.

Update August 2017: I read this book not long after this First Chapter Friday, and it was awful. Again, I will concede that a good first chapter doesn’t make the rest of the book good, but if the first chapter is bad, I won’t read the rest of the book at all.

Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Kathryn Lasky

Instagram @jackalediting

Engaging First Sentence?

Nope, the story started with three lines of dialogue. Sometimes beginning with dialogue can work, but the problem is that action is happening (someone’s talking), but I can’t picture it because I’m not given any context. If I didn’t already know this book was about owls, I’d have had no clue what was going on.

Engaging First Chapter?

Not at all.

Now I know that this is a kids’ book, but I’ve read plenty of decent kids’ books before (looking at you, Emily Rodda), and even promote reading them to learn a thing or two about writing since they don’t take as long to read. This is a bad example if the first chapter is anything to go by.

Middle-grade novels reasonably aren’t held to the same standards of complexity and sophistication as YA and adult novels, but that doesn’t mean they can ignore writing best practice. My child sibling started about twenty different books before he found one that stuck, so I know how difficult it can be to get kids to read. For that reason, it’s probably even more important for a middle-grade book than a YA or adult novel to have a hook in the first chapter! This book doesn’t. It shows the everyday life of the characters and then ends.

Verdict

I’ve seen the movie and there were concepts in it that I enjoyed, which is why I bought the book. I might give the second chapter a go eventually, but if it’s as disappointing as the first chapter, then I’ll abandon it. 1/5.

Update August 2017: I haven’t touched this book since this First Chapter Friday.

 

Have you read any good or bad first chapters lately?

Louise

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