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The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 7:08 am
by deepsesh
A lot of books start off with an action sequence... or a dream sequence. That sort of grabs your attention from the beginning, and then the pace slows down to accomodate character building scenerios.

My book starts of fairly simple. Nothing exciting about it... its just a start of a journey. But it builds up throughout.

What are your opinions on what's the best way to start a book?? I've been wondering about this for a long time now, but somehow i don't feel like re-writing my beginning. At least not until i get my first set of feedback!

So do you prefer a fast beginning and a slow middle? Or a slow beginning and fast middle??

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 8:40 am
by izanobu
Neither? I prefer a fast beginning and a fast middle. Why let up the pace? :)

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 9:20 am
by Sommer Leigh
A good beginning isn't about something happening, big explosions, flashy fight scenes, and dramatic dialogue. A good beginning is about demonstrating what is at stake for this story. Sometimes that is flashy fight scenes and big explosions and what not. Sometimes it's not. The unfortunate answer is "It depends" and it really depends on both your story, your pacing, and your writing style.

You say your beginning starts simply. That there's nothing exciting about it. That's probably a bad sign, but without reading it I don't know. Of course it should be exciting! It should be interesting. It should make the reader feel like there is something at stake from the first page to the last, and pulling that off is tricky. There shouldn't be any slow spots.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 9:39 am
by deepsesh
Hmm... basically my first chapter establishes my MC, second chapter - the location, and third chapter my romantic counter part. And my chapters aren't too big. So pace wise its pretty fast. But there's nothing explosive in the beginning, and that's what worried me.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 10:18 am
by Robin
I absolutely hate it when a book starts off with a dream sequence. Its such a tease. I also don't appreciate a huge action sequence in the beginning either, because the rest of the book tends to drop the excitement as it goes on, which is another let down.

Slow and steady, hmmmm... I think if it is interesting and it moves and builds to something would be great. I've heard a lot of people complain that Twilight started slow, but they were hooked immediately because the characters pulled them in.

I once heard that a good book is like great sex- you tease a little with foreplay and gain ground until the climax and bring the reader back into a state of euphoria.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 10:49 am
by Margo
I think Sommer has a pretty good answer to this, so I will just add what I have heard and read from a few editors and agents.

Dream sequences for openings or whole chapters are usually poison. On a similar note, so are weather and landscape openings. Opening with a dead body or with a POV character who only exists to get killed in the first chapter is getting harder to pull off due to sheer repetition, though it's almost mandatory in some genres. Prologues are almost always unnecessary. Opening with heavy-duty action (eyeball kicks is the turkey city phrase, I believe) usually feels flat unless the voice really comes through, in which case it's not really all about the mechanics of the action but what the voice is saying about the character. Gut-wrenching melodrama (usually the immediate aftermath of the death of a character the readers neither knew nor cared about) usually feels like forced intimacy.

As far as pacing, this is also somewhat a function of genre. In general, however, the stakes, tension, and pace should build as the story progresses. The biggest problem with slow pacing I've seen is that it is usually accompanied by a drop in tension, though that doesn't have to be the case.

I'd beware of starting out either very fast or very slow. I have always remembered the explanation one writer gave me years ago. Your story is a tablecloth (backstory and plot) with a teacup (incident) sitting on it. Events are pulling the tablecloth off the table. When the teacup gets to the edge of the table, start the story.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 11:54 am
by polymath
A novel's first chapter is a handshake with readers, an introduction. The most basic purpose of first chapter introductions is building audience rapport. Building audience rapport boils down to several significant facets. One, artfully posing a central suspense question a novel will answer, the most basic one being, what will happen?

Two, introducing an empathy-worthy character. A well-rounded empathy-worthy character has a weighted balance of self-sacrificing and self-serving personality traits and behaviors. Alternatively, a setting situation might take priority over character empathy-worthiness. In which case, the setting situation causes an insuperable dilemma.

Three, a first chapter introduces audience resonance with a character/setting's insuperable dilemma to be resolved by a novel's ending. An insuperable dilemma creates an emotional cluster potently contributing to empathy-worthiness, ie., pity and fear, awe and wonder, sorrow and hope, shock and anger, desire and frustration, and so on.

An insuperable dilemma is the motivating force, the diametric opposition of conflict (life and death, for example), what's at stake, the antagonism motivating change or resistance to change, and the inciting crisis that sets plot in motion. The ideal purpose for audience rapport introductions of a novel's first chapter is to start plot movement as soon as possible.

Introductions aren't completed until an inciting crisis is introduced. An inciting crisis is the first of the three highest tension plot benchmarks, inciting crisis (beginning), tragic crisis build up to climax (middle), and resolving crisis at resolution (ending). Inciting crises are typically caused by external forces pressing inward on a character or characters until they become aware of an insuperable dilemma. For example, a Broken Arrow incident, an Israeli nuclear warhead is lost in Arab territory, opens Clancy's The Sum of All Fears. That's an example of a public and private setting situation dilemma, timely, timeless, and universally relevant to audiences.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 2:06 pm
by Emily White
I think the book should start where the story starts. There's usually something significant that happens to put your MC on the journey he/she will live through during the book, so start there. Someone used Twilight's slow start as an example, but the book started there because Bella's story started when she moved to Forks. If you're beginning is slow, just make sure that it's pertinent and that your readers get to to connect with your characters.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 27th, 2010, 2:21 pm
by cheekychook
For me the most important thing about a book's opening (whether it's a first chapter or a prologue) is the voice. It doesn't matter if there's crazy action going on, or the character is sitting quietly thinking, or there's something mysterious....if I'm comfortable with the voice I will keep reading. There are plenty of books that start with something as simple as "My name is..." and manage to suck the reader into the story. "Interesting" doesn't have to mean exciting/unexpected/wild, it just means people want to know more.

Re: The first chapter of a novel

Posted: May 28th, 2010, 2:19 am
by deepsesh
Awesome feedback... all of u!!! Thanks so much!

My story starts exactly where it needs to - so that's a good sign. Just need to polish it up a bit and it should be okay.