I’m following up on the previous entry, “The Importance of First Chapters,” and writing about a specific author: Louis L’Amour. Historically, L’Amour has been my favorite Western author, and I wind up rereading all 100-plus of his Westerns about once every five years. I got to wondering about what draws me back to his books, so I did a little exercise.
I picked 10 of his books from my collection, grabbed a cigar and took to my hammock on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I then read only the first chapter of each (though two of them sucked me in, and I went back to finish them that night) with an eye toward what keeps me turning the pages of a good Louis and what devices he uses to hook his readers early.
I discovered some definite patterns in the 10 books.
First, with a single long exception (32 pages), all of his first chapters were short, quick reads between seven and 11 pages.
Second, he used patterned openings in his books.
In three of the 10, women lost their husbands (either in the chapter or before the story started) and were left to fend for themselves, all with difficult, if not impossible, challenges facing them.
In two of the 10, innocent people were murdered, and innocent people were drawn into what happened. In one instance it was a kid, and in another it was a writer. In a third example, a man was attacked and was near death, and again, another innocent woman is drawn into the story, at the risk of her life and her family’s.
In two of the books, families leave their safe, but miserable, homes and head west for a better life, but even in the first chapter, face tough odds and foreshadowing leaves you to believe the husbands are in serious trouble.
Two of the books are a bit different from the others. In one, a small Army group is attacked by Indians and faces tremendous odds against surviving. And the one most different from the others has a young man, seemingly a good man, joining an outlaw gang and participating in some robberies.
In most cases, the common theme is that someone has been wronged, usually by bad men but a couple of times by bad luck, and the survivors face long odds against continued survival.
And in all cases, what L’Amour does with his first chapters is simple; he makes you want to read the second chapter.
Each first chapter ends with tension and suspense, and with the protagonist facing long odds. And each of them leaves us, the reader, to wonder how they can possibly get out of the trouble they are in.
L’Amour writes what are commonly called “page turners,” and almost without exception, the last couple of lines of a Louis L’Amour chapter leave the reader eager to read the next chapter. And because his chapters are usually quite short, it’s easy, sometimes too easy, to just keep reading “one more.”
It’s a good lesson that we all need to be reminded of. Keep your book interesting. Tease the reader into wanting to read more, and you know what — they will.
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!