What Readers Look For In A First Chapter

Posted: December 26, 2019 in Uncategorized
Good Writing makes books come alive

My first writing instructor taught us how to begin a book and this lesson has been instrumental in my technique as a writer. I don’t know how many times I’ve referred this First Chapter outline/checklist to budding writers who can’t seem to get traction in their career.

I doubt readers need to rely on this knowledge because they usually go by what they like. However, I’ll bet they would agree with most of the following points I’ve laid out here. Or maybe it would be enlightening to understand what hooks them in a story.

So, I’m going to pass the baton to Dee Lopez, who taught Novel Writing for many years at Mt. Hood Community College in Portland, Oregon. It it weren’t for her, I’d still be writing goofy but humorous short stories.

After putting up with me for a term, she pulled me aside and said, “Don’t you think it’s about time you tried writing a novel?” And for that, Dee, you deserve my everlasting thanks.


Object: So the reader will continue reading.

1. Start at point of impact for the main character.

2. By dialogue, action, or appropriate setting, grab the reader’s attention in the first paragraph.

3. Establish the type of novel–comedy, mystery, romance, etc.

4. Establish time period.

5. Establish setting–location, terrain, time of day, etc.

6. Establish point of view. (Do we quickly get into one POV?)

7. Set the mood (tone)–mysterious, romantic, etc.

8. Introduce the protagonist with essential information–sex, age, basic physical description, background, and the situation he finds himself in at the beginning of the book.

9. Introduce one or more secondary characters, as appropriate.

10. Strive for fresh, exciting writing!

General Comments:

1. Keep in mind the theme (moral, premise) of your story.

2. Don’t forget the important rule of “writing from the senses” (visual, hearing, smell, taste, touch, feel and feeling). Rule of thumb–one appeal to senses per page.

3. A novel must be logical and credible within its own context.

4. Creation of mood is important. (It’s not fair to fool Mother Nature–or the reader. Don’t let him think it’s a mystery, when in reality, it is a historical romance.)

5. Emotional hook is important, i.e., “I just couldn’t put your book down once I started it.”

6. After each chapter, ask: 1. Does it have clarity? 2. Does it say what I intended it to say?

These are basic tenants, but a good checklist to follow if you feel you aren’t getting the response from readers you expect. It may also help readers understand what’s missing from the book they are reading and assist them in writing reviews.

Authors, Keep Writing and Readers, Please keep Reading.

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