Let's face it... The reader of today is not the reader of yesteryear that had no choice but to turn to a book for entertainment. Today with the freakish advancement of cell phones, smart TVs and streaming services, there is no shortage of entertainment and distraction. The side effect of having this entertainment in your pocket 24 hours a day is the mind constantly craving quick satisfaction. Patience is lost on all of us, even the readers. So what does this mean for the author? He/she must change with the times.
What is the first sentence of your book? This is the first opportunity to peak the reader's interest and curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also sold books. It doesn't have to be anything extensive or fancy. Some of the best opening lines were just a few words(Check out this article on the 10 best opening sentences). But what is the impact of those words? Think about this: how many words does it take to make you feel special? And on the flip-side, how many words does it take to make you feel horrible? What happened internally the first time your significant other said the words, I love you? How would you feel if that same person said the words, I hate you? Three simple words that can have such a huge impact. Keep in mind when constructing your opening line that bigger is not always better.
Setting the Tone
Chapter one of your book is the introduction of the reader into the world you have created so meticulously in your mind. The goal is for it to be transferred from your mind, to the pages of your book, and then to the mind of your reader. You want them to envision this world as closely to what inspired you as possible. And so, you must take careful measure to ensure the words that you choose in the beginning of chapter one do just that. The reader must see, smell and feel this world that you've created so that it sticks with them throughout the remainder of the book. The rest of the book should not have to be bogged down with heavy descriptive writing in order to hold the reader in your world.
Writers put a lot of their effort into creating a climax that has a "wow effect" leaving the readers mind blown. The same amount of energy and effort should be placed on chapter one. If you decide after the book is finished that you want to have it published, first you will need a literary agent (See more on publishing vs self-publishing). The agent, if interested, will ask in return that you submit a few chapters of your book. If they cannot make it past chapter one, your chances of getting published are dead. On the other hand, let's say you decide to self-publish. One way to increase book sales is to give the reader a sample of your book, which is usually the first chapter(see how I've done the same thing). I'm sure you could, if you so desired, utilize any chapter in your book that you feel will leave the best impression. However, if the first chapter of your book is not an option, then it needs to be re-worked. It should be option number one.
Every story has something called an inciting incident. For the novice, the inciting incident is a occurrence that sets the actual story into motion by sending the protagonist on their journey. Let's look at some examples:
Odin, Thor's father, passes away in front of his sons. His life was the only thing holding back Hela the Goddess of Death. Within 20 seconds of Odin's passing, she appears, and makes clear her mission to destroy all they love. Now they must stop her.
Bilbo Baggins has 13 dwarves show up to his home. They want to undertake the mission of retrieving their homeland, which is now inhabited by a dragon. Gandalf the wizard convinces both parties that Bilbo should accompany them on their mission. Bilbo is reluctant but leaves with the dwarves and wizard on their mission.
Darth Vader boards a ship illegally in search of the Death Star plans. As a result Princess Leia stashes a message for Obi-Wan inside a droid before being kidnapped.
Getting the point? Alright, so now that you know what an inciting incident is, you'll need to figure out how to get there faster. However, there's a delicate balance to making this happen. You do not want to compromise the quality of the story by speeding up this revelation too quickly. If you you write five different stories, this will hit at five different points in the story. Irregardless, if the reader does not even realize that the inciting incident has occurred, you have a problem. I don't mean that they should point at this part of your book and say, "Hey! There's the inciting incident!" But they should realize that the story has actually begun.
It is easier to keep a reader interested in your book throughout the different paces if you get them properly invested from the onset. They may forgive a so-so or slow chapter because of the curiosity created from chapter one. When the elements of the opening line, proper tone setting and inciting incident come together the results can be magical. The reader will be caught hook, line and sinker.
Jarray Davis is an author and creative consultant. To get in contact with the owner of this blog please email: firstname.lastname@example.org