First Chapter Friday #10 (January 2017)

#FirstChapterFriday January 2017 | 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 January 2017.

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#FirstChapterFriday Shadow and Bone
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Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

The good

I liked the writing and the lack of info dumping, especially since this is fantasy and the reader needs to learn the context, world and premise.

The first sentence was long, which I would normally complain about, but it was simple enough to flow well, meaning I didn’t need to read it several times to comprehend every piece of information:

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and they youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

I liked it because I already know some characteristics of these two characters. I liked it because using the detail of summer peaches rather than something vague like fruit or food makes the writing more vivid.

I also liked the first descriptions of the characters in the second paragraph:

The boy was shorty and stocky, shy but always smiling. The girl was different, and she knew it.

The contrast in the way they’re described accentuates the fact that the girl is different. The matter-of-fact way her difference is stated gives it importance, suggesting to the reader that this difference is something they should care about. This leaves them with a question: what’s so different about her?

I also liked the dialogue. The words sounded natural and it wasn’t bogged down with tags when it didn’t need to be:

Crouched beside the girl, the boy turned to her and whispered, “Why don’t you eat?” / “Because everything she cooks tastes like mud.” / “Tastes fine to me.” / “You’ll eat anything.”

The world building was great. On page 2 we’re introduced to Grisha, but aren’t told what they are. We find out about the world as the characters find things out and ask the questions we want answered.

The bad

It was a prologue.

Will I keep reading?

The point of the first chapter is to introduce the reader to the story in a way that entices them to continue reading after the chapter ends. I liked the characters in this prologue and I knew that their lives were about to change forever, but this was a prologue and a quick glance at Chapter 1 told me I was going to jump ahead several years in time and there was going to be a tone and point-of-view shift. It was the characters as they were that I connected with in this prologue and it was the way the story was written—in third person—that drew me in. Then there was a shift. The things I liked will no longer be present. I will keep reading because of my interest, but the switch is off-putting and will ensure I don’t read on immediately. I’ve got other books to read instead.

Update August 2017: I still haven’t read it, but I like the author so it’s still on my radar.

#FirstChapterFriday Eragon
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Eragon, Christopher Paolini

The good

The chapter had action and conflict and problems that were not resolved, so I assumed the story had started.

The bad

I didn’t care about those problems because I don’t know enough about the world to understand their significance. Someone was after some kind of magic rock, but without knowing what could be put at stake by the bad guys having possession of said rock, I don’t care.

The chapter also relied on stereotypes to tell me who the good guys were and who the bad guys were, and stereotypes are not enough.

Some lines of dialogue were pretty bad, too:

“Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes. Stop whoever is coming … or die.”

The writing was just generally not great. It didn’t flow. I kept losing interest and couldn’t really picture what was happening. The sentences were all structured the same way, all the same length. Together, things were bland and jarring.

Will I keep reading?

Nope. I couldn’t get past the writing, despite how much potential might be there. And while the book started with action, I didn’t know enough about the world for that action to interest me.

Update August 2017: I haven’t read anymore, and have no interest in doing so.

#FirstChapterFriday The Light Between Oceans
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Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman

The good

The writing was nice and flowed well, and I adored some of the figurative language, e.g:

[The island] rose from the ocean floor like teeth along a jagged jaw bone, waiting to devour any innocent ships in their final dash for harbour. / As if to make amends, the island […] offered a lighthouse […].

The bad

Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, lighthouse keepers, live isolated on an island. One day a small boat washes ashore with a dead man and an infant. This was all interesting, and I think I can guess what they decide to do with the baby, which will affect their lives. What I don’t know is why this should make an interesting story, as this prologue gave no indication as to why I should keep reading. There was no hook.

Will I keep reading?

I might get back to it one day to see how things progress in the next chapter, but not for a while. I need more to hook me in.

Update August 2017: Haven’t read on and probably won’t.

#FirstChapterFriday A Monster Calls
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A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

The good

The book was written as though narrated by a thirteen year old, meaning it had character voice and was, therefore, easier to get lost in. I also liked the character’s attitude; when he woke up to hear an inhuman voice whispering his name and when he finally saw the monster it belonged to, his reaction was: “Come at me.”

The chapter ended with the monster grabbing the boy out of his room and preparing to eat him. It ended in the middle of a scene making me want to know what was going to happen next, so I turned the page and continued reading. This is the kind of first chapter you want; the one that has the reader wanting to immediately start the next chapter. What I found was that the second chapter didn’t continue from what I just read, leaving me wondering what the first chapter was all about. Was it a dream? I read the blurb again. No indication of what was going to come. But it has still left me with questions that I want to know the answers to because of the way the information was presented. Easy to read. Voice. A character I could like. I want to know more about this story.

The bad


Will I keep reading?

I’m definitely going to read it. I might even give up on the book I’m reading now to read this instead!

Update August 2017: I did go on to read this more-or-less straight away.

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