A couple of weeks ago I posted the first blog in a series on 'What Makes a Great Story.' It focused on starting a story off on the right foot with the importance of the first sentence or paragraph. You can read it HERE. This second post in the series will continue on that same topic.

Although that first paragraph is important, rarely is it going to be enough to entice a reader to make a purchase. As always, there are exceptions to anything. But generally, if someone buys a book that hasn’t been recommended to them, they are going to read beyond that first paragraph. Some may read only a few pages as you’ve either hooked them at that point or turned them off enough to make their decision. In other instances, a reader may give you more of a chance and read the entire first chapter or as much as they are able to at a site like Amazon or an author’s website. For the purposes of this post, I will assume that the reader has access to the first chapter.

So let’s look at a few things that I think are important to a strong first chapter:

1.  Finish what you’ve started – If you’ve given me action to start, that action needs to pay off in some way. If you’ve given me character, I better have a strong sense of the character’s voice by the end of this chapter. Don’t shift gears too soon without giving the reader a sense of short term satisfaction (i.e. starting with a gunfight in the first paragraph and then shifting to a boring flashback about them eating ice cream with their big brother that takes up the entire rest of your first chapter).

2.  Don’t only focus on what you’ve started – Just because you start on action, doesn’t mean you can’t give me character. Just because you give me character, doesn’t mean you can’t give me a better sense of the setting. In fact you should give me as much as you can as soon as you can. The sooner I feel like this story is “real,” the sooner I’m clicking the buy button.

3.  Hold back on most elements – I may want to know every detail right away but that doesn’t mean I NEED to know those things. Give me, as the reader, just enough to keep reading. Avoid the info-dump.

4.  By the end of the chapter, give me a reason to keep going – This doesn’t mean the chapter should end on some cliffhanger. It does mean that you need to make me care about the characters, make me interested in the world, and so on.

5.  Your work needs to be polished – It’s sad I have to say this but all of your work needs to be edited, edited several times more, edited again professionally, and then proofed. This should be true over the entire story but especially in the first chapter. I might be able to overlook a few clunky sentences, missed punctuation, and so on in Chapter 20 after a relatively clean start (after all, every book has a few mistakes). But in Chapter 1? Not so much. After the first big error, I usually skip down a bit, read a random paragraph and so on. If I have to do that more than twice, I’m usually done.

Now, keep in mind the points I listed above are also important to your entire story but again, you only have one chance to impress the reader so the first chapter had better be some of your best work.

Speaking of first chapters, (warning: shameless plug ahead) you can read the first chapter of Rise and Fall, the first book in my up-comping epic fantasy triology entitled Blood and Tears for FREE with the purchase of Warleader - A Blood and Tears Short Story. Click on the Amazon button to download to your Kindle or Kindle app, the Barnes and Noble button to download to your Nook, or the Smashwords button to download to your other ereader or computer.

What else do you like to see when reading someone’s first chapter?

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