In with a bang
Welcome to the new age of short attention spans and immediate gratification. You know what I’m talking about. With so much information out there to see, no one has the time to wait for you to get to the point. Now gone are those days of slow starting stories. If you want any agent, publisher or reader to give your book the attention it deserves, there are a number of key factors you should take into consideration when starting your book.
Shock your readers
This can be anything from presenting your readers with something unimaginable, abnormal or throwing them right into the thick of the action.
Give your readers something to think about. What aren’t you telling them, what is your character hiding? A good hook would often times leave your reader with a question. The desire to get the answer to the unanswered question would keep one reading. The question must be compelling enough to gain the interest required. Usually it is an emotion based question. Why did the killer cry when he looked at his victim? Is he just crazy, or does he know who his victim was?
Add a Twist
Take a sharp left from the get go. Sometimes the opening of a book can seem very normal which isn’t necessarily bad, but to keep your reader interested, you should be able to show that in your story anything can happen. You can be in point A and your next paragraph can easily swing them to point B. Not knowing what exactly could happen next is one of the reasons people want to know what happens next.
A nameless character with a dark past, a tattoo no one knows the meaning of? Of course I’d like to know more. It doesn’t even have to be your protagonist. What your readers need is a character they can get excited about. Just like Celeana Sardothien from Throne of Glass.
After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword point.
It’s easy to already wonder about how she got into slavery. Yet, in the same paragraph, there’s another piece of information increasing the intrigue.
Most of the thousands of slaves in Endovier received similar treatment, though an extra half-dozen always walked Celaena to and from the mines.
What made her different?
The greater the risk, the greater the reward right? What does every tried and tested fairytale adventure have? Two things; a great reward (usually the hand of the princess) and a great risk (like battling ogres and slaying dragons). These stories have never gotten old no matter how many ways they are turned around and told, because they always have those two main elements. And even when we expect a happy ending, we still stay at the edge of our seats reading or watching how they make it through the tasks.
No matter how big a reward something seems like, perhaps the power to rule the world, if it is not backed up by an equal risk, then we think ‘this has no value’.
A great example is in Six of Crows, where Kaz Brekker was presented with a mission to rescue someone for the good price of 20 million Kruge. What’s the catch? Simple. He had to rescue this person from an impenetrable prison, with no external help and at the risk of his life.
This reveal was in Chapter 3 which can be seen as too far into the book, I agree. The point to be taken is the weight of that risk is what kept me reading that book.
Writing about a relatable character from the get go gives your readers something to care about, and when your readers care, they become invested. They want to know that everything turns out great for this character they see so much of themselves in. The ability to create a character that your readers can empathize with is a quality a writer should have. Often times I’ve powered through a book that wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea because I could ‘understand where the character was coming from.’
When you story isn’t fast paced and action pact, this relatable character would be the key to keep your readers interested.
End on a cliffhanger
Sometimes even when you do everything right from your page one, with how busy people tend to be, if you give a satisfying ending to your first chapter you are automatically giving your readers a chance to put down your book and think ‘I’ll come back for it later’. Sadly, sometimes they never do. If on the other hand you end your chapter one on a cliffhanger, ‘reader gratification syndrome’ (I made that up) kicks in. They just have to know what happens next. They want to be satisfied with the amount of information presented to them, so they will keep reading until they get to a good resting point in the story.
This is how I ended the first chapter of my YA.
For the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of the world, she would bear the guilt of her decisions, her actions, alone.
She stretched her hands over the cradle, looking at those innocent sleeping eyes and she made her choice.
The questions come from there. What did she do? What was her choice? Who is the baby? What happens next?
If you can make your reader go to the next chapter of your book immediately, even when they are so tired late in the night and have to wake up early for work or school the next day, then you’ve done something right as a writer.
Chio Zoe is a Young Adult Fantasy writer. Her debut novel To Cross a Blade amd Dagger placed her as a finalist in the Breakthrough Novel Awards. She is currently working on book 2 scheduled to be released in 2019. Chio studied Architecture and Fashion Design, yet has always loved writing. When she isn’t working on her debut series, she writes short stories on her website (chioojukwu.com).