Sunday, March 1, 2015

First Chapters


The International Thriller Writers organization hosts weekly blogs on questions they put to their member authors and readers. Coming up on March 9, the blog question is: “Do some writers tend to work too hard, too long on the first chapter? How do you avoid that pitfall?”

Here’s my response.

Certainly, there is tremendous pressure on authors, particularly those aspiring to be published for the first time, to write a smashing first chapter; a chapter that sells an agent on reading the whole manuscript and convinces an editor to buy the novel.

While a fast moving, well written first chapter—suspense launched and tension crackling—is necessary, it’s not sufficient to ensure your novel will sell well, a key goal for most writers.  

I would suggest that the climax chapter is at least as important, if not more important, than the first chapter. The climax pulls together all that has gone before it into a deeply satisfying moment of revelation and/or emotional release, making the novel memorable and recommendable, a word of mouth phenomenon to drive rewarding sales. 

How would you answer the questions? 
Douglass Seaver, Author
The Fourth Rule 

8 comments:

Sharon Arthur Moore said...

Doug, I do believe you are correct. There's a memory principle called the mathemagenic effect. First things and last things are more likely to be remembered than the stuff in the middle. So leave a good first and last impression to get those word-of-mouth recommendations.

Billie Johnson said...

Thanks, Doug, for posting today!

Amy Bennett said...

Very true, Doug! Having a good beginning and a good ending also forces you to have a good middle to tie them together!

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Nancy LiPetri said...

I think Sharon makes a great point--I know I have been tempted to give up on reading a book in the middle, then enjoyed the end so much that I would give it a much better review than I thought I would. First chapters were discussed at the NC book fair this weekend, with readers saying they won't read past the first if something isn't pulling them into the story. We don't have to give away secrets at the beginning, but must hint that there will be some, in a tone the reader enjoys.

JS Quelch said...

While I've never left a book I started reading unfinished (not saying that I didn't regret it later), I usually can tell if I'll like a book from reading the blurb on the back cover and the first page or two. When I wrote Karl and the Kooltones, I tried to set the tone of the book in the first couple paragraphs so a reader would know right away whether they will love it or hate it.

Doug Seaver said...

Sharon, Thanks for the word "mathemagenic".

JS, Your comment reminds me that a book's packaging sets it's tone before the first word is even read.

Beryl Reichenberg said...

I've been known to put a book down because it doesn't live up to its first chapter. With some stories, the author gets lost in the middle. Yes, a strong beginning and ending are important, but an author must pay attention throughout the book.