Why You Should Never Judge A Book By Its First Chapter

Because first chapters suck.

A while ago, I had a series of posts called Write A Great Beginning which, I have to be honest, I’m very unlikely to update ever again.

This is for two reasons:

  1. I’m trying to move away from ‘writing advice’ content.
  2. It’s staggeringly hard to find works that meet all of the criteria we expect from first chapters.

“Your first chapter must grab the reader!”

“Chapter one is the most important chapter in your book!”

“Make your opening scene epic or throw your manuscript in the fire.”

Why are we so mean to first chapters?

Granted, a lot is riding on the first chapter. It’s the first chapter a literary agent will read. It’s the first chapter a publisher will read. It’s the first chapter anyone, anywhere will read.

And let’s face it: We don’t have the attention span to read 2500 words of world-building, or of a character’s daily routine, or the classic ‘one hundred years before our hero was born’ opening.

Something needs to happen in the first chapter. Something important, engaging, and exciting. If it doesn’t, chances are nobody is reading to Chapter Two.

Here’s the thing though.

No matter what, I 100% guarantee that the worst, most boring chapter in your book is Chapter One.

Because if it isn’t, you’re in trouble.

A while back, I read a sci-fi novel that opened with the protagonist escaping from a venting volcano. Chapter two featured her having a job interview. Holy mother of whiplash batman!

I don’t want to read an epic opener, all fire, and explosions, only to be bored by everything after.

I’m not saying don’t open your book with something exciting. I’m not saying be boring. All I’m saying is that, just maybe, if your best stuff is in your first scene, you might be showing your cards too early. Everything that follows will be anti-climactic. Everything that follows will be boring.

Slow down a little bit. What matters is that gradual increase of tension.

Remember the plot triangle?

This is what the level of excitement should look like in a story. It’s how to hold your readers attention, even in a story that’s written out of chronological order. What the opening scene should do is establish the stakes. That’s how you rise up that triangle. Tell us why what’s about to happen matters.

Tell us about the kid sister your protagonist is desperate to protect. Tell us about the orphan boy who sleeps in a cupboard. Tell us about the underdogs. Tell us everything about why you love the story you’re writing.

First chapters suck, okay? Let’s not make them suck more.

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