I must admit, I cheated a little with this research and only read the first few pages of each chapter because I only wanted to see what it was that made you as a writer want to keep reading for more and surely enough, I found what I was looking for.
I also used authors from different genre’s to get a better look at the different ways first chapters are started. The main thing I noticed was that the first paragraph of each first chapter was used as a hook for the rest of the chapter and book. The first paragraph sets you up, as the reader, for wanting to find out more, which I guess I am not doing with my own first chapter.
So here is the first chapter techniques I have picked up that could help with the writing of a better first chapter.
Using a dramatic scene in the start of the novel to lure the reader to want to know more.
Stephen King accomplished this successfully in Desperation, when a couple discovered a dead cat nailed to a road sign. So I wanted to keep reading to find out why someone would do such a thing.
Peter James also favored this kind of start to both his novels Prophecy and Sweet Heart. In Sweet Heart a woman’s dog runs into an old abandoned building, but everyone is too afraid to go anywhere near it, even the dog used to be scared of approaching it and yet today it had run into that building, which made me want to keep reading to find out why the dog suddenly got the courage to go inside.
Creating characters that you can’t help but like or even love from the beginning.
Janet Evanovich demonstrated this fantastically in both her novels Seven Up and Fearless Fourteen. She uses a wonderful sense of humor to give you a first person point of view of the leading character Stephanie Plum and you can’t help but just love her.
John Grisham also started his books The Client and The last Juror in a similar way. In The Client I am introduced to Mark, an 11 year old boy who likes to smoke and there’s just something about him that makes me want to keep reading to find out more about this boy. You can’t help but wanting to know more of his story.
Gena Showalter’s Darkest Night and Darkest Kiss made me fall in love with The Lords of the Underworld because of how she just makes each and everyone of them so tough and tortured but also so very like able at the same time. You feel their pain and she makes you want to climb into those books and sooth those men yourself.
J.R.R. Tolkien did this in the Lord of the Rings. He introduced me to Bilbo Baggins and The Shire and I fell in love with that world he created and the characters.
A wonderful piece of description
Christine Feehan, who is dubbed the queen of paranormal romance, did this in both her novels Darkest Guardian and Dark Legend. Her powerful talent of describing a scene pulled me in since word one.
Johanna Lindsay did the same thing in Fires of Winter. She takes you to that place and you can really see it in your minds eye.
J.R.R. Tolkien probably does it the best. He really had a wonderful imagination.
The leading character finds himself/herself in some kind of predicament.
Jacqueline Frank excellently demonstrated this in both her books Drink of me and Ecstasy. I kept reading to find out why and to know what happened next.
Christine Feehan also used this approach in her books Darkest Guardian and Dark Legend. So she used two different techniques in her first chapters alone. Awesome!
These are only a few authors and I am sure if I read more books and studied more authors I would have seen even more different techniques. But technique aside, I also realized that it is all about the words themselves too. Just because I am going to use a similar technique, doesn’t mean my first chapter will be awesome. There is still the odd chance that my grammar and spelling, not to mention storytelling could make my first chapter sink. Each and every one of us will find a different way of writing and thus our formulas will change from writer to writer. So no luck in using somebody else’s.
Though I didn’t get a magic formula, I definitely learned a lot and have a wonderful starting off point. I could see why my first chapter doesn’t work and am urgently going to fix it. I just have to remember that the first chapter needs to be strong and unique.
Hope some of this was useful to you.