First Pages

Cheryl Klein has a great post about the first chapter in YA novels, including some annoying tropes and thoughts about pacing. One part I found particularly interesting:

“But I believe that the number-one thing that hooks readers is authority, by which I mean a sense that this writer is in control of the story and how it’s being told. An author with authority isn’t in a rush to give away the central plotline of the book, because s/he knows that plot is going to be good, and so s/he can afford to take her time getting there, and to do it right….The author can take that time because s/he still makes all of this backstory build up steadily to the Inciting Incident, which happens by the end of the first chapter if not earlier.”

I don’t think Klein is necessarily saying that we all need to have leisurely openings about the scenery or the weather. But I think it’s so common to hear that you need to hook the reader with the first paragraph, and I’m glad that Klein suggests focusing on character and emotional core at that point. A lot of books start on a day that something changes; it’s good to have a moment of time in which we see the characters in their status quo. Then we can appreciate how things will change. (Klein has a few great examples, like The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars.)

Still, it’s important to note that Klein also says you need an inciting incident pretty quickly. If there’s no momentum by the end of the first chapter, a reader can feel like there’s not enough reason to keep reading.

This has definitely given me something to think about for my latest projects. Make sure to check out the full post, and share your own first chapter tips/pet peeves in the comments.

(image: J. Paxon Reyes)

2 thoughts on “First Pages

  1. In the example that Klein noted, there were too many different action items. Pick one thing to happen and start with that. Let it slowly lead into an explanation of your world/characters. Then hit it with the main plot. Tease the reader in with a curious/suspicious trail of breadcrumbs, not a two-lane highway strewn with croissants, doughnuts, muffins, and loaves of Wonder Bread.

    In my debut novel, there are exactly two paragraphs of description before something interesting happens. There’s the sound of a fight, the whiff of a strange–possibly dangerous–new type of vampire, and then it’s over and one of the new vampires is left for dead.

    After that I spend some time unraveling the mystery of the strange vampire, then I spend several chapters setting up the status quo of my main characters and their vampire society.

    Then, and only then, do I tear everything apart. Murder, torture, and general mayhem take up the following 3/4ths of the book.

  2. There’s this notion that YA’s don’t want to read. They have been desensitised by the the overload of sensory input from video games, TV and films. In order to capture them you have to have something gripping from the first page. The first lines have to start with action and event. There also has to be suspense to carry them through the first two pages. Often YA’s start with unusual or exciting themes. It is difficult to decide what approach to take. YAs with descriptive or narrative starts seem to work as well. I think those are the ones with interesting or unusual characters.

    Please follow my blog: thinkhappygirls.

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