#FirstChapterFriday December 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 December 2016.

First Chapter Friday #9 (December 2016)

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#FirstChapterFriday In the Skin of a Monster
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In the Skin of a Monster, Kathryn Barker

The good

The voice in this book was immediate and fantastic. I knew this girl immediately and was interested in what she was doing and what she had to say. I learnt about how three years beforehand, when they were both fourteen, her identical twin sister shot up their school and killed seven other students. I learnt this without info dumping, and it made me sympathetic towards her to some extent since everyone hates her for what her sister did.

The chapter also introduced a mystery. I’m assuming her sister is dead (I don’t know for sure, which is great) but she saw a mirage-type thing of her sister and the chapter ended with her touching this weird mirage thing, which apparently was the beginning of the second time “it all went to shit”. Oh, and most of the chapter she was walking down a highway and being followed by a car, which I’m also suspicious about. I was going to read the next chapter because I was that into it, but after getting confused I realised it was in someone else’s POV and I stopped. I’m interested in Alice. I don’t want to meet someone new right now. Especially when the book’s written in first person.

The bad

I don’t have anything bad to say about it at all.

The verdict

I rated this first chapter 5/5 because I really enjoyed it and was interested in reading more. Was. See, I was surprised that this book was set in Australia and was unfamiliar with the author, so I immediately set about Googling it to find out more about this author. I went on the Goodreads page for it and now I’m worried.

I thought this book was going to be a contemporary YA fiction novel about a girl dealing with the fallout of her twin sister having shot up her school. Apart from this weird part:

Alice finds herself trapped in a dangerous new reality: a broken world that’s filled with the nightmares of everyone in the community.

the blurb says that too. I had no idea what to make of that sentence in the blurb and didn’t expect it to be anything out of the ordinary.

The book has generally favourable reviews on Goodreads; however, I did find a few low-scoring reviews that accused this book of lying in its blurb because the book is not a contemporary YA novel about a girl dealing with the fallout of her twin sister having shot up her school; it’s about a girl who literally finds herself trapped in a dangerous new reality. This isn’t what I signed up for and I feel misled by both the blurb and the the first chapter, both of which still feel really contemporary to me. Now that I know the book isn’t going to deliver the story I thought it was, I’m less interested in reading it. I thought it was going to be a Vikki Wakefield meets We Need to Talk About Kevin.

The reason I brought all of this up is that I feel cheated. I feel cheated out of my time, I feel cheated out of my money, and now I’m totally interested in the story I know I’m not going to get. I don’t like this feeling. Please make sure your first chapter accurately represents what your story is about.

Update August 2017: Because I know the story won’t be what I thought it was going to be, I haven’t read on.

#FirstChapterFriday Hex
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Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

The good

I liked the first line because it surprised me, and the detail made it sounded kind of funny:

Steve Grant rounded the corner of the parking lot behind Black Market & Deli just in time to see Katherine van Wyler get run over by a Dutch barrel organ.

I also really liked the characters. To begin with, four characters were introduced on the first page which got a little confusing, but most of the chapter focused around a family, who all had distinct personalities and I enjoyed reading about them thoroughly.

I’m also really intrigued by the concept of this old woman ghost who is so well known by this town that they’re not afraid of her. They even have an app about her! I want to know more. This approach to ghosts and hauntings isn’t one I’ve read before, and it was executed well enough that I’m interested.

The bad

The chapter had a lot of brand and product names such as Wikipedia and iPhone, which dates the book and makes it look like it’s trying too hard to be relevant.

Also, there was no hook. There was action in the first chapter, but without it signifying a change in the characters’ lives, it felt like a waste of time.

The verdict

4/5, I’m going to read more of this book in the near future.

Update August 2017: I haven’t read more of this book because there was no hook. I have considered it a few times, but decided against it because it doesn’t fit in my handbag.

#FirstChapterFriday Girl on the Train
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The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

The good

The writing was nice.

The bad

By the second page I was already skimming because there were too many unimportant details that would have put me to sleep.

This book is divided into chapters that each focus on a different character and comprise journal entries. Each one was short, none of them seemed to develop any sort of plot, and the end of each one gave me a choice. When a reader comes to any sort of visual break, be it a chapter break, a scene break, or the end of a journal entry, they’re given the opportunity to put the book down. At the end of each journal entry, I was tempted by this choice. The book wasn’t engaging me, and if I wasn’t determined to read it for #firstchapterfriday, I wouldn’t have made it past Rachel’s first chapter.

By the end of it, nothing hooked me.

The verdict

2/5. This book started excruciatingly slowly and failed to hook me.

Update August 2017: Because the journal entries are so short, I gave the book another go … and finished it within a few days.

#FirstChapterFriday The Painted Man
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The Painted Man, Peter V. Brett

The good

The book started with something happening, something that demonstrated what the antagonistic force was capable of and, therefore, how the main character might be threatened.

The chapter was quite long and comprised several scenes, but most of them gave me crucial information about the world without info dumping, which allowed me to sink into the story.

The bad

There was a little bit of info dumping here and there, which got boring. Also, I was introduced to so many characters at once that I had to keep rereading parts to work out who was who.

My biggest complaint, however, is that I was told the eleven-year-old main character was bullied by all the other kids in the village. Not only do I think this is trite because I see it in so many fantasy stories featuring kids, but, like most of the others, I was never shown evidence of this bullying. I never experienced firsthand what bullying the character was subjected to. Maybe he’s overreacting. How am I supposed to know? It’s simply a technique to make me feel sorry for and like the underdog, a technique that doesn’t work because it’s so overused and because I can’t trust a thing the character/author tells me without evidence. Show me him getting bullied in real time and I might be able to form an emotional connection, otherwise it’s just hearsay and I won’t be engaged.

The verdict

A lot of what I read was interesting, but by the end of the chapter, nothing significant had changed. Without anything to look forward to, this first chapter has failed to make me interested in reading chapter 2. For that, it gets a 2/5.

Update August 2017: I haven’t read any more.

#FirstChapterFriday Inbetween Days
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Inbetween Days, Vikki Wakefield

The good

*cricket noises*

The bad

This first chapter dragged. Nothing happened. Nothing interested me. The writing was awkward in places, which was strange for Vikki Wakefield, whose writing I usually enjoy. In some places, bland sentences formed entire paragraphs. In other places, she changed the subject like she was flicking a switch; no flow, no transition. Toward the end, I thought something interesting might be building, but no. The chapter ended with no change in the character’s life, and a whole lot of backstory I didn’t ask for.

The verdict

1/5. I don’t think I’ll be picking this up again.

Update August 2017: I haven’t picked it up again.

 

Louise

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