Thursday, 3 April 2014
Day Three: Hook your readers in the first chapter #BYBin30
The first chapter is important in a non-fiction book but it is crucial to the success or failure of a fiction novel.
In a non-fiction book, your readers need to establish that are getting value from reading your book. If the first chapter doesn't teach them anything or clarify anything for them, then they will not bother reading the rest of the book. They have bought your book because it is about something they are interested in or because they want to learn something from it. You have to show them, within that first chapter, that they did not make a mistake in buying your book. Give them what they want. Don't wait until later in the book, because if the first chapter doesn't do anything for them, they probably aren't going to get to "later" in the book.
In a fiction novel, your first chapter has to hook them. There are several things that you need to do in the first chapter, and these things need to be done in such a way that your reader doesn't even realize you have done it; they will just continue reading because they are hooked.
1. Start in the middle of the action. This doesn't have to establish your main conflict for the story, but some action should be happening as the reader gets introduced to the story and the characters. This establishes a sense of urgency and keeps the reader reading further.
2. You need to establish who your main character is. Male or female? How old? What do they look like? Do NOT have them looking into a mirror and cataloguing their appearance. A description of the main character needs to be much more subtle than that.
3. You need to establish a reason for the reader to empathize with your main character. What is it about the main character that a reader can relate to? What is it about your main character that is likeable? Why is the reader going to want to root for the main character? Some books have successfully introduced anti-heroes, or protagonists that do not have overly redeeming qualities. Usually, the only way this works is if the antagonist is even worse than the protagonist, and if the hero has at least one redeeming quality. For example, when an assassin refuses to kill children and then spends the rest of the story trying to save a child who is on a "hit list" from another assassin who doesn't have the same aversion to killing children. (This story-line has been done before, many times, but, here, I am only using it as an example of an anti-hero.)
4. Present the conflict of the story. It doesn't need to happen in the first chapter, but there should at least be some foreshadowing of what it is going to be or that a conflict is coming. This gets your reader anticipating more of the story.
5. Establish the setting for your story. The reader doesn't need to know every detail about the place they find your characters in this opening chapter, but there should be some indication of where they are. Is it set in a different world? An alternate dimension? Are they in a building or a house, or are they outside? What time period is it? Establishing these things can be done in a variety of ways. For example, the way your characters are dressed, how they talk, their surroundings and how they interact with those surroundings and the technology that is around or not around are all some ways to establish the setting.