The First Chapter Sells the Book

by Al Kalar

A new writer needs a first chapter hook to sell the book.

Well established writers can slog through the chronological background and then on to the “good stuff” only because they have developed a following that trusts them to deliver a good yarn — eventually. Disaster movies get away with slow starts because the studio spends millions on advertising trailers showing the explosions that come later in the film.BourneIdentity
The best stories, IMHO, start fast and move forward, dropping little hints as to what happened before, but not spending a big block of time (or info-dump) on the past (make the reader “run” to keep up). One of the best examples of this is the Bourne movie series (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) which starts off with NO background at all. Amnesiac, Jason Bourne is in the soup from the beginning until the final face-off at the end, trying to figure out who he is, why people are trying to kill him, and how to survive. He gathers bits of information and has a few very brief flashbacks, but by and large, the film is in the “present” and moves fast.

So, do what is necessary to sell the book to the casual browser in the store (be in Barnes & Nobel, Amazon, or your local independent dealer) and for heaven’s sake don’t allow the second chapter to be boring. You “promise” something in the flyleaf excerpt (a book’s version of a movie trailer), the first chapter, and in the back cover blurb. After that, it’s up to you to “deliver” on that promise.

This does not mean you have to produce an action yarn to get sold. It does mean that you have to be “interesting” from the start and to the finish. Audiences vary and even one person is likely to have a range of tastes in reading. SF stories vary from Spaceman Spiff blasting his way across the universe and shooting everything in sight to some geek trying to make a breakthrough in science while being ridiculed by his colleagues and his girlfriend (my idea of boredom, but maybe not yours).

So, what turns you on or off when you start a book? Why do you pick up one book at the store and not another?

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