We all know that first chapters are deal makers or deal breakers. And I’m assuming that you want yours to be a deal maker. As I do mine.
Let’s look at Elana’s first chapter to see what we can learn.
“Good girls don’t walk with boys. Even if they’re good boys – and Zenn was the best. He strolled next to me, all military with his hands clasped behind his back, wearing the black uniform of a Forces recruit. The green stripes on his shirtsleeves flashed with silver tech lights, probably recording everything. Probably? Who am I kidding? Those damn stripes were definitely recording everything.”
In the rest of the chapter we learn how Vi, the main character, has been breaking rules in this dystopian society where the Thinkers control just about everything. Zenn is her match. They are in love. And he’s about to give her a gift. But a hovercopter interrupts the moment, picks her up, and brings her to the institute for a formal hearing.
- We are introduced to an awesome voice.
- Immediate conflict.
- Love interest.
- Introduction to the dystopian world.
And at the end of the chapter I want to know what happens to Vi.
Successful first chapter. Hooks an agent, an editor and readers.
- Nothing in the first chapter is as it seems.
- Later in the book, more is revealed, and the first chapter takes on a whole new dimension and meaning. Wow!
Sorry, no spoilers, you’ll have to read the book.
Here’s Elana’s book on Amazon – give it a try.
How can you add layers to your first chapter? How about the whole first half of your story?
Layering is so important. I find that a lot of it only comes during revisions.
For me it takes revisions to reveal what my layers whould be. I don’t really have a method, it just happens.
Yes, I agree. Layering often happens in the revision when you actually know the ending so know how to add it to the beginning! But I really loved that about Possession.
I didn’t think to go back and read the first chapter after but now that you mention it, I’ll bet it does take on a whole new meaning! Great post!
This post has inspired me to try something new. Once I’ve finished reading a book, I’m going to reread the first chapter. This could be an interesting lession. 😀
oh man! this is such a great post. there’s a manuscript i’m working on right now, and it’s like peeling an onion….so many layers! it’s amazing how much that adds to the plot and characterizations!
I like Stina’s idea about re-reading the first chapter! Great tip!
Thanks for giving this example, Laura. It helps so much to see how other authors do it to evaluate our own work. And the voice in Elana’s opening is wonderful!
Hahaha! Great tease and lesson. Awesome!
YESSSZZZZ!! I love that you used Elana’s book to do this (and now I see that first chapter ina new light)!
I find the layering sometimes happens accidently. That’s when you know that you understand your characters well.
It also happens mostly during revisions for me.
Maybe because I’m plotting and thinking about my first chapter that I want to be writing NOW – instead of plotting. But I know that doesn’t go well for me. I love layered first chapter.
It’s tempting for me to edit and revise my early chapters before I’m finished with a draft. Like other commenters said, sometimes the layers arise out of writing and are more clear during revision. I agree the first chapter should have hints to all of the layers, even if it’s not said outright. As long as it’s not a massive infodump, but more like hints and glimpses.
I read the ARC a while back, and you’re absolutely right, great example, Laura.
This is what I loved about Ruby Red as well.
THat is seriously an amazing first chapter.
And I’m glad you didn’t have spoilers because I’m almost done reading Possession!!!
Great example. Her first chapter IS amazing!
I loved Stina’s idea of rereading the first chapters and see how they worked – or didn’t. And Possession does a great job of setting things up.
I’ve been looking forward to reading this so now when I do, I’m going to pay even more attention to that first chapter. 🙂
Awesome post. Thanks for sharing 🙂
I am about to start a new project and the first chapter has been whirring around in my head. I have about four different ways I could go. This post is helping me to refine it even more.
the best part, I think, is the whole things not being as they seem part. Well, apart from the great voice. Very cool.
Oh, and in this age of Kindle samples, it’s even more important to have a hooky open, yes?
good stuff~ <3
Yes! Layering adds that extra dimension that makes a good book great. I try to use it my own stories too so there’s a few ah-ha moments for the readers.
Thanks for this breakdown! Layering is super-important, though hard to do, in my experience, so I have no advice, lol. I’m always looking for ways to add more depth, so I’ll be looking into this in the revision rounds that follow. Thanks for the breakdown!
Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse
Love how you break down the layers.
It’s something that always has to be done in revision for me but as a reader there is nothing I love more than having an author do this in a novel — it encourages a second reading to see the deeper meanings.
I’m almost done with Possession. The voice is amazing, and I was impressed with how layered the whole book is.
I have some layering in my first chapter, but they’re buried so deep that people won’t pick it up until close to the end of the series.
I have to agree that Elana has a pretty awesome first chapter. I’m currently rewriting my own first chapter, so this post is perfectly timed.
Layering is absolutely key to a good story. I plan out my series several books ahead so I know where a lot of the characters are going as I’m writing earlier stories. It lets me sprinkle lots of bits and pieces over time and build in those layers that will pay off later in the book or in a future book. Some come in the drafting by knowing that; others come in the revision phase as the pieces fall into place for that particular story. Each book stands alone, but in some, there will be a bigger payoff for people who read all of them.
Thanks everyone. I always appreciate a layered story that makes sense and is done well. I noticed it about Possession right away.
Layers make the world of difference and I love it when I discover new ones along the way in a story. If the initial chapters are too convoluted though, I pass, I need to be eased into the layering, myself.