Wanna Know How/Where to Start Your Novel? Read a TON of first chapters. I’ll talk about published ones today, and unpublished ones in another post.
On my week of not-writing, one of the things I did was go to Amazon and read a TON of first chapters. (I may write up something on how important I think it is to take chunks of guilt-free non-writing time, but that’s another post).
So, anyway, over a few days, I read a ton of first chapters. Like, close to 50. That’s right, 50.
First chapters (and sometimes second chapters) are free 🙂 Take advantage.
I read in several genres and went to Amazon’s overall top 10 and read those. I mean, hey, we might as well start the learning curve with the people who are selling loads of books, right?
What did I learn? (Keep in mind these are traditionally published novels that I read)
- Voice is key. More than anything else, voice made me want to ONE CLICK.
- Not one chapter described the character’s backstory – not more than a sentence or two.
- I never felt slighted by not having enough information.
- The setting was integral to the character, and nothing more.
- There are as many writing styles as first chapters. Gorgeous prose won’t keep me reading more than straight-forward commercial prose. Different feels for different books for different genres. That’s OK. (And I do believe in literary-commercial fiction, just for the record).
- There are very, very few new ideas, if any. There are only interesting and unique takes on other ideas. Take Wood’s book – There have been kidnapping books done before, murder mysteries done before, serial killer books done before, but his MC was tough and vulnerable and determined, and I had to know her better.
- Each great chapter left me wanting answers. Some chapters had BIG questions – will this person live? And some had smaller ones – Where does this go?
- – Ove just left me wondering – What’s next for this guy? This Savage Song left me DYING to know how the two POV paths would cross – this is a huge world, and I got JUST enough to keep me grounded, but there was a lot more to learn. Followed by Frost was just a very cool premise, and when a character starts in such a drastic place, I had to see that through. The One that Got Away was so disturbing that I couldn’t leave it there. No One Lives Twice had a CHUCK feel to it, so I knew it would be a fun read (it was).
What do I take away with this? That in my first drafts, I ALWAYS try to do too much. That most people try to do too much. This is okay. It might just be a natural part of the process. Sometimes I write the beginning, only to realize it wasn’t the beginning at all, after I reach the end. And I think in my quest for voice, I can go overboard… We might talk about that in my post about reading unpublished first chapters…
Sometimes, in trying not to do too much, we write too little, and we lose voice. Other times, we want to get to that jumping off point, RIGHT NOW, and we jump too early… Every novel will be different, and I cannot stress enough how much it’ll help your writing, to study the writing of others – both the good and the bad.