First Chapter Friday #3 (June 2016)

#FirstChapterFriday June 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 June 2016.


Don’t know what #FirstChapterFriday is?

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Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

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Engaging first sentence?

Yes. I adored it!

Joost had two problems: the moon and his moustache.

I like it because I found the moustache part amusing and unusual, and it surprised me enough to want to know why he’s got a beef with his moustache.

Engaging first chapter?

For sure. I enjoyed the writing, and was particularly impressed by one of the first passages that introduced a detail about a character’s appearance without breaking the narrative. This gives me high hopes for the rest of the novel.

More importantly, something happened! The character’s status quo was disrupted, prompting action, which engages the reader. What followed this disruption was quite interesting and I’d like to know more about the world. Further, the chapter finished before the resolution of this scene was achieved, which will entice the reader to turn the page and read chapter two.

Verdict?

5/5. The world, events and writing all intrigued me and I’m excited to pick this book up again soon.

Update August 2017: I read this book not long after this First Chapter Friday. I loved it, I wrote another blog post about it, I almost couldn’t bear waiting for the sequel, and I bought another of Leigh Bardugo’s books. This first chapter definitely did its job.

The Forest of Hands & Teeth, Carrie Ryan

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Engaging first sentence?

Absolutely not.

My mother used to tell me about the ocean.

Okay. So?

This is the first line. I have no context whatsoever to understand this sentence’s significance. I don’t care about anything in this sentence, and why should I?

Engaging first chapter?

After that terrible first line, the narrator continues to prattle on about the ocean for way too long. It’s supposed to establish that she’s basically living in The Village, but talking about the ocean is such a cliched and boring way to tell me that she’s in a secluded settlement in the middle of nowhere. It’s like me saying “My mother used to tell me about snow” because I live in Australia and have never seen snow. What does that tell you? That I live in a place where it doesn’t snow and have never travelled to a place where it does snow. Are you interested in me yet?

You have to remember that at such an early point of the story (like page one), you, the writer, are much more interested in your characters than your reader. Minor details about your character aren’t a good way to start the narrator–reader relationship.

However, once I got past all this painful crap about the ocean, things improved. World building and backstory—which only included stuff that was necessary for me to understand what was happening and its significance—were seamlessly woven into the narrative. Also, there was a disruption to the narrator’s status quo that was irreversible and would likely kick off an even bigger conflict, which was excellent. That’s exactly what I want to see in a first chapter.

That being said, I didn’t feel grounded in the scene. That ocean stuff went on forever, but when it came to action, things happened too fast for me to fully visualise. Because I wasn’t grounded in the scene, I couldn’t connect with anything. Because I couldn’t connect to anything, I didn’t care about the disruption to the status quo. Because I didn’t care about the disruption to the status quo, I’m not inclined to read further.

Verdict?

I’ve given it a 4/5 based on what happened. It was the kind of first chapter I enjoy: it introduced the main character doing their daily life thing, their daily life was disrupted by something, and that something wasn’t resolved in the first chapter. However, the writing let me down.

You need to be careful of how you describe things and how much you focus on them. Too much focus was given to talking about the ocean and not enough was given to the action, which meant I completely lacked connection and don’t care about the book.

Update August 2017: I still haven’t read this book. I wasn’t interested enough in the character to care how she would react to the life-changing problem this chapter introduced.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

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Engaging first sentence?

It makes absolutely no sense without any sort of context, but as it’s only three words I think I can include the next few sentences. The first four lines work together to establish that the narrator is not human, which is interesting in itself. If you’ve read the blurb and know who the narrator is, these lines also work to create a narrative voice that will ensure the reader can connect with this narrator. So yes, it was engaging.

Engaging first chapter?

The prologue is divided into chapters, a structure I’ve never seen before. I’m intrigued to see how that works out.

But honestly, this book had me at “narrated by Death” and I’m wondering how I haven’t read it yet. I love Death’s voice; it feels like there’s a personality telling this story. It supports the illusion that Death is telling the story and not Markus Zusak, which helps me get lost in the writing (and, as I’m sure I’ll find once I continue reading it, it will help me get lost in the story).

The book has these little side-note things that appear between paragraphs that I’m not too fond of because it pulled me out of the scene; however, I might end up coming to like these so I’m not complaining too much at this point.

It worked as an introduction, too, because it made a promise of what the story will be about and I personally think that Death is a figure that, fictional or not, has existed for a long time and has, therefore, witnessed many things. If he wants to tell you a story, you know it’s going to be good.

Verdict?

5/5, I can’t wait to keep reading this book

Update August 2017: The first chapter did its job. I read on. I didn’t finish it, but the first chapter convinced me to give it a shot.

Set in Stone, Linda Newbery

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Engaging first sentence?

It wasn’t particularly compelling, but it did set the scene. At least there was something to picture, unlike The Forest of Hands & Teeth.

cEngaging first Chapter?

The writing was lovely, which is always a plus. The prologue didn’t involve much, but the purpose seemed to be to create mystery surrounding a girl in a painting and something awful that happened to her, which the narrator witnessed and is still haunted by. I expect that the book will be about revealing what happened to her and would hope that the event in this prologue turns out to have some sort of emotional payoff or it’s not really necessary.

Verdict?

3/5. I might give chapter two a go because I did enjoy the writing, but I wasn’t exactly hooked by what happened. If chapter two doesn’t impress me, I doubt I’ll finish the book.

Update August 2017: The first chapter didn’t hook me enough. I still haven’t read chapter two.

 

Want to join the discussion? Read the first chapter of any book and post on Instagram with the tag #FirstChapterFriday and be sure to tag me @jackalediting.

Louise

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