Monday, February 20, 2012

The Agony of the First Chapter

new review at Smashwords by Reviews of Unusual Size gives TAINTED SOULS an overall rating of four stars out of five, calling it "genuinely engaging" and a "quick, fun read" while miffing that the first chapter is "over-written" with too many "$20 words."

Those of you who followed my earlier rantings here (this is being simulposted at my new blog) already know that the first chapter and I have a bit of a history, particularly in reference to the first five pages, which agents and editors so often view as the key to a book's desirability. If the first five pages don't rocket you right into the story, the theory supposedly goes, no one's going to buy your book.

Anyone read The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo? You may have heard of it. I read it. I liked it. But I'd say that book doesn't actually start going anywhere until about page 200.

Of course, we all have different opinions of what it means to draw you into a book quickly. I've had plenty of readers, including a few agents, say TAINTED SOULS captured them from the get-go (even if, for one reason or another, the agents passed on the manuscript). On the other hand, I once re-wrote the first chapter (with an emphasis on the first several pages) at the specific request of one agent, who said the intro left her cold (she was left unmoved by the revision, too).

One thing I think might be interesting is to write the first chapter last. By that time, you'll have a much better understanding of your characters, a more established voice and sense of the overall gestalt of what you're trying to accomplish. This assumes, of course, that you're trying to do just a little more than tell a story, that you might like to give it a little finesse.

Though you should try to avoid too many of those $20 words.

What do you think?


  1. Another solution is to cut the first chapter in half, or thirds or quarters, as I've recently done. Who can have a 50-page first chapter other than maybe Cormac McCarthy? Girl With The Dragon Tattoo definitely did not get started until page 200. I know I don't have that luxury. At least your book is out there getting read and reviewed. That has to feel good.

  2. Which words are worth $20? That's what I want to know. I'm gonna clip 'em out and cash in.