What Makes a Great First Chapter? (A Comparison of 5 First Chapters)

What Makes a Great First Chapter? (A Comparison of 5 First Chapters) | Tips for writers on writing a first chapter that will have your readers hooked. A must read for writers wanting to write an effective first chapter for their stories to hook their readers.

I love starting a new book; there’s something about beginning a new journey that invigorates me. When it comes to choosing the next victor from my towering TBR stack, a great first chapter will always win out. I selected five contestants and read the first chapter of each to bring you some tips about what makes or breaks a first chapter.

A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin

Engaging first sentence?

Nope. The woods are going dark and some people are dead. I don’t know any of the characters so I don’t care about who’s dead and why, or even if this is a good thing or a bad thing, and dark woods are one of the most cliched settings in the history of storytelling. Not that this is bad, it’s just not particularly interesting.

Engaging prologue?

Eh. What follows the bland first sentence is pages of nothing. Backstory as if I care enough about these characters to want to know their history, and description of their clothes as if these three men think a dark forest is the ideal place to hold a fashion show. It isn’t until page seven in the ten-page prologue that something mildly interesting happens.

The description was perfectly fine, but the writing felt too dense for me to fully appreciate the imagery. There wasn’t room for me to slip into the story; I felt like I was watching it all through a telescope. Shame, because the actual content should have been truly frightening. When the prose holds me at arm’s length , lines like When the blades met, there was no ring of metal on metal; only a high, thin sound at the edge of hearing, like an animal screaming in pain [9] fail to chill me.

Will I read on?

Well, yeah, because it’s A Song of Ice and Fire and I imagine the story is much better than whatever flaws I’ve found in the prologue would have me believe. I won’t read it right away, though. The prologue simply didn’t entice me to keep reading straight away.

Ashley Bell, Dean Koontz

Engaging first sentence?

It’s ok. It’s nicely written, but it isn’t wow.

Engaging first chapter?

Yep. The first page describes a series of stories the main character writes that I now want to read, so I’ll be interested to read on to see if these stories come up again. There’s also an intriguing concept explored on the second page that hooked me in. The action starts on the second page of this four-page first chapter so things start happening immediately, undelayed by backstory and description of clothing. I love Koontz’s writing; it flows so well that it’s easy to get caught up in what I’m reading. At the end of the chapter a mystery is introduced, and I already like this character.

Will I read on?

Definitely. I want to know the answer to that mystery, as well as the other questions these four pages raised.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Engaging first sentence?

Definitely! It was surprising and made me laugh. I want to keep reading so I can get an explanation and so I can laugh more.

Engaging first chapter?

To begin with. The voice was great, but it turns out that voice alone can’t keep my interest for even eight pages. By the end of the chapter, nothing had happened and there was no hook, no promise of what was to come next. It was just a recount of some mundane events. You can tell how little happened by how little I’ve written about it.

Will I read on?

Probably not. There was no hook. There was nothing to hold my interest.

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

Engaging first sentence?

Yes. I know I said that the ‘dark forest’ part of A Game of Thrones was uninteresting, but with I Am Legend, it’s hinted that a threat will come with sunset. Matheson isn’t trying to set the mood, he’s telling the reader what the situation is: ‘they’ come at sunset, and it seems the main character wants to avoid whoever ‘they’ are. I want to know who they are and why he wants to avoid them.

Engaging first chapter?

Not really. The character is doing things, but he doesn’t seem to be working towards anything except day-to-day survival. This is boring. I’m not left with a hook, so, like Gone Girl, I have no reason to read on. I have nothing I want to see resolved. There’s clear conflict but as I don’t particularly like the main character and he doesn’t have much of a goal, I frankly don’t care about this conflict.

Will I read on?

Nope, probably not.

Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas

Engaging first sentence?

Yeah, it’s alright. It makes me want to read on, at least. I want to know how this girl was forced into slavery, not because I care about her, but because I find that interesting.

Engaging first chapter?

Yep. The action starts straight away and the main character has a strong voice. I’m told she’s an assassin, which had me worried because characters like this are often poorly executed in the YA world, but I’m also shown that she’s capable of filling this role. This character is attentive, actually brave and not just fearless, and has a good sense of direction, all strong characteristics that help me believe she’s an assassin and not just a teenage girl wearing an assassin costume. The chapter is delightfully short at five pages and ends with a mildly interesting hook.

Will I read on?

Yes. It’s not fantastic, but it’s good. I want to see if it can stay that way.

What Makes a Great First Chapter? | Tips for writers on writing a first chapter that will have your readers hooked. Head over to jackalediting.com for the full article, and more great writing tips from a freelance book editor!

 

Louise

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