Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Why The First Three Chapters Matter

This will be short and sweet today.

The first three chapters of your story need to rock! These chapters need to be the best writing you have ever done in your life, and the reason is simple. It is these chapters that your readers will determine if they like your writing or not.

If you think about it, as a reader, how much time to do you give an author with a new book? Generally, it is around three chapters. You start in on a book and the first chapter is slow. It's OK. You'll attribute this to getting to know the setting and maybe a character or two. Now we hit the second chapter and it's still a bit slow, but we are still giving the author the time. Maybe the author just wants to work in more on a character or some layering. By the time you hit chapter three, you are hoping the character(s) and conflict are finally in motion. If not, you have given up. That book is now tossed aside and you move on to something new

You'll notice, at some level, you have created excuses to justify the slow writing.

Editors and agents are doing the same thing. They have a ton to read on their TBR pile (other submissions, client edits and proposals and so forth). They are not going to wait around for chapter eight or ten for things to get good.

If you think of those first three chapters, you want to hook us with great writing, great characters and great voice. You want us to get to the point we cannot stop reading.

Does this mean you start with action? No! But you do want to start with forward movement. Characters sitting around having tea, or pages upon pages of setting building or information dumps is not going to get you going.

I often think of James Michner's CENTENNIAL. Now let me just say, I love the book and I totally loved the mini series (when a mini-series really was a mini-series). But when it comes to the writing, that first chapter is not the best. The geological time record of the Colorado is not uplifting material (and not as in Basalt). Michner, however, was able to get away with this because he had already established himself as a writer.

You haven't.

Make sure to really work through those pages. Make those pages shine!

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