Mile 14: Importance of First Chapters

I recently took an online class on writing fiction by James Patterson. It’s offered as part of the MasterClass program. Mine was a gift from my son. Thanks, Justin! While I’ll do an entire post on the class somewhere down the trail, I do want to mention one thing that Patterson highlighted now.

I’m paraphrasing, but this is what I took away from the class, and while it’s not a concept unique to Patterson, he gets the credit today.

You have one chance to grab the average reader — and that’s your first chapter. Make it count.

It makes all the sense in the world. There is a temptation that many of us fall prey to: stacking tons of background information into the early parts of our books. It’s easy to get caught up in that. But it’s important to remember that that information may or may not matter to the reader and, without exception, doesn’t matter as much as a compelling story.

Hook ’em early, keep ’em hooked throughout, and filter the additional information throughout the story, if at all.

I went through a fascinating exercise recently. I pulled about a dozen Western favorites off the shelves, retired to my favorite hammock and started reading. I read the first sentence, first paragraph and then first chapter of each book, not going past the first chapter. I paid attention to the following: What worked? What didn’t? What gripped me? Most important, which chapters convinced me to read the second chapter, and why?

Remember, outside of your family and close friends, no one is going to feel an obligation to read your book. With every chapter, consciously or subconsciously, the reader is weighing your book against another book, a nap, a movie or a sitcom. Keep it moving — force them to keep turning the pages, to stay up too late reading and to not even consider not finishing your book.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *