I was on a writing forum recently and noticed a call for beta readers. Several people responded (saying that yes, they would be willing to read), and the author said something very interesting about their novel. I can’t remember verbatim, but it was something along the lines of: “Well, the first few chapters are kind of boring anyway. It doesn’t get good until the middle.”
*Throws computer through window. Cries real tears.*
As you can imagine, I was shocked. It was my assumption that everyone knew that the first three chapters are the launching pad to any novel, otherwise, agents wouldn’t request them…right?
So many important things happen during the first few chapters! We’re learning who the main character is, what issues are plaguing them, what kind of story we’re getting into, etc., all while building up to something so momentous that the character will never be the same again and will spend most of the novel (the middle) trying to restore order.
But what makes a good first few chapters? Well, I guess that’s subjective. What’s good for you might not be good for me, so just off the top of my head:
- An interesting main character. They don’t always need to be likable but if I’m going to spend 300 pages with somebody, they better at least be interesting. What makes a character interesting? Well, their perspective on life. The things that they do or say, the people they surround themselves with (the list can go on).
- Good narrative voice (not what is said, but how).
- The writer presents a real life problem for the main character that readers will care about. It doesn’t have to be life or death, but the main character should care enough about the problem so that the reader cares. And even better, the character should care enough about the problem to try and (actively) find a solution.
- A good supporting cast. Nothing like great secondary characters to make a story pop.
- This one’s personal, so if you don’t mind this one just skip it: for me, I hate it when a book starts off too fast. Like when there’s a dead body on the first page and I haven’t spent enough time with the characters to even care about who’s dead. Or, a story that starts off with a car chase, or so much action that I find it hard to ground myself in the story. My personal preference is for a slow build (but not so slow that we’re still moving at a snail’s pace halfway through the story) that leads to a heart pounding climax. Just my preference….
So that’s my two cents. What about others? What kinds of things do you like to see in the first few chapters of a novel? What turns you off?
And to writers: what methods do you employ when writing those first few chapters?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!