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A Bad First Chapter, is Like A Bad First Date

A book is an entity, a new world, a body, a person, a date if you will. We the author use our surrogate bodies (our books) and send them out, hoping we ring a few bells and prompt more than just a reader or two to go out for a smoke once they’re done. We want the emotional connection, we want to resonate with the audience. We want to get laid.

There. I’ve said it. We want to score. We want to impregnate a reader’s mind with our bastard unruly ideas, possibly ruining them for most good books in the future. It doesn’t matter. We go into this story hoping that by the end of the first chapter, the reader is all about letting us [impact] their mind.

It’s important that you keep that analogy in your head because without it, it won’t be as easy to explain why your first chapter might actually be a lousy date.

A reader sits down with your book. They’re nervous, they are excited, they are maybe a bit cautions, too. They open it, the first line is a turn off. Your book just said, “I’m a boring person.” Okay, that’s a bad start. So choose your opener and make sure it reflects the chapter.

But even with a bad opener, they might keep going. A lot of people START their first chapters well, but then as the date gets comfortable and the reader gets interested, suddenly your book goes into a lengthy back story about a character not present or a great deal of exposition. And as your book is going on and on about that, no dialogue, no showing, no motion, your reader gets bored, and starts looking around for someone else to [impact] them for the night.

“Oh, but it’s important to the story!” you say. Yes, but you don’t go on a first date and start talking about how your dog died and you never got over it, when the scene opens with a crime taking place instead!

Stay on topic.

If the story is talking about a character’s personal life, don’t mention a new topic in great length. Stay on topic.

Daddy issues? Save it. No personal life. Save it. You get ONE line to hint at these new topics. ONE, and stay on topic. If you open up with a chase, don’t do a mini flashback about what happened BEFORE the chase. Stay on topic. And STAY in the here and now.

e.g. of a ‘no no’

Barry caught the next baseball before it struck him in the face. The crowd fell silent. At that speed, catching a ball barehanded should have hurt. Everyone stared at him as if he should react with less calm.

Handing the baseball over to the catcher, he tried to smile under his over-sized batting helmet. He gripped the bat again and took a wide stance.

“Let’s go,” he said.

He’d always been like that. He could burn his hands and not feel any pain. When he was five years old he nearly drown in a pond. His uncle jumped in and swam to save him. Ever since that time he’d known he was different. Throughout his life, he’d had to hide his strange nature. Sometimes he’d forget to act normal. When he’d go into work and burn his hand on the fryer by mistake. Or times when he was getting an injection and moved around without thinking.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t have a girlfriend. It’d be hard to explain to a woman why he’d always have bruises on his body from not being careful. He wanted a girlfriend though, it was lonely being in high school without any close friends.

Oh Barry, Barry, Barry, what the hell? Did I need all that dumped into my lap before my chicken salad even arrived? Couldn’t you have hinted at some of that?

Suggestion:

Barry caught the next baseball before it struck him in the face. The crowd fell silent. At that speed, catching a ball barehanded should have hurt. Everyone stared at him as if he should react with less calm.

Handing the baseball over to the catcher, he tried to smile under his over-sized batting helmet. He gripped the bat again and took a wide stance.

“Let’s go,” he said, chalking this up to yet another inexplicable bruise to add to all the others.

When he thought of the fact that his family no longer asked and he had no girl to explain himself to, he swung with all his might.

“Strike!” The umpire announced.

Two more balls flew his way and he struck out miserably. His body might not feel pain, but his pride definitely took a hit.

He lumbered back to the dug out, all eyes on him. The first time he’d seen those expression, he was five and he nearly drowned. The other players now wrote the same look of confusion and worry his uncle had after dragging his very alive body from that water. He’d been a freak back then, too.

Throughout his life, he’d had to hide his strange nature. Sometimes he’d forget to act normal. Today he’d messed up big time. This wasn’t like work where he’d burn his hand on the fryer by mistake and could hide it. People had seen.

“Another great year of high school, here I come,” he grumbled as he flopped down on the bench. Other players inched further away from him.


No switch-a-roo.

You opened with one character and switch half way. So basically your date sits down and tries to get comfortable. Your friend doesn’t come by and sit and you start to talk while you’re not involved. So don’t do that with your characters. Your reader is trying to get emotionally invested in your character, but suddenly that first character is just gone and a new one is there instead, it’s jarring. So now your date’s chewing on some lettuce, feeling a bit abandoned and wondering why he/she should give two [impacts] about this new character. No connection between the two character, just a bare new character out of nowhere; One character just stood up and another one sat down.

There are many different scenarios for what makes a lousy date. Imagine your characters as real, imagine your reader as being on a date, and keep it interesting. Don’t leave your character alone delving into his/her thoughts for two long. Give the reader information by SHOWING it unfold. You can hint at things, but stay focused. You want your reader to follow you home to chapter two, not doddle at the doorway and give you a friend-zone handshake.