1. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    How do you like the first chapter?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Albirich, Jan 5, 2014.

    1. Do you like it better when given a bit boring start that tenses up as the chapter nears its end

    or

    2. Do you like it when it starts right in the action?

    Example:

    1. Siegfried is in the capital, and is almost executed in the throne room due to him not calling his bannermen to a war that he believes is only a fools hope to win.

    2. Siegfried and his houseguard has already killed over a dozen men and made a run from the capital, hoping to reach home before the king's justice or his loyal houses catch him


    This is just an example from my own book, you don't have to answer, I'll probably find out about it myself. It's just an example of my two beginnings for a character. Of course if you want to give me your input that would be nice. I'm just wondering what you as readers enjoy most as a starting chapter.
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    In general, the more action right off the bat grabs the most readers.
    It's worms to our fish.

    However, I don't mind very slow and drawn out beginnings if it's very well written and the imagery is spot on but something DOES have to happen that's interesting and exciting or I might drop it too before the first chapter is up.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If you take me on a tour of the lands, I will decline. If you start me in a place that seems overly mundane and don't quickly give me a reason, a hook to tread through the mundanity, I will decline. I don't ask that every story begin mid stroke-of-the-sword, in fact, I find that entry as dull as actual dullness since it's the go-to entry in order to avoid dullness, tends to promise lack of creativity, and the circle does go 'round.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The reader has to want to keep reading. That's it, really. Whatever you do to create that effect should work.

    Some stories start with action. Some start with introducing a very interesting character, characters or characters in conflict—mental, physical, financial, a struggle for power. Some start in a very interesting location, or with a very interesting situation, or a very interesting idea. I think too much emphasis is placed on the notion that all stories have to start with a 'bang.' They don't—but the reader must be intrigued enough to want to keep reading.

    I agree with @Wreybies, that a mid-action beginning can be VERY dull indeed. It's often just a gimmick, used by people who are writing by numbers, to a specific kind of quick-reading formula. But unless you're an expert at it, it doesn't work. We don't know the characters OR the situation. Just a couple of people whacking at each other. Who cares, basically? Nobody ...yet.

    Draw the readers in. That's all you need to do. I'd say just start with what you find the most interesting about your story, and work from there.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's it in a nutshell!

    doesn't matter what does it, as long as it produces the necessary result...
     
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  6. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with @jannert . Whatever makes the reader keep reading is all that matters. Whether it's action, or dialogue, exposition or description, if it keeps me interested, I'll keep reading.

    That being said, in medias res is my favorite method for starting a story, whether reading or writing. I agree with those who say you should start your story at the last possible moment.
     
  7. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    There has to be something to capture your attention at the beginning. It doesn't have to be a big action scene, but it needs to be something that grips you. If I find the first two pages of a novel boring, I'm not going to finish it.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    A Slow start is one thing, a boring start is something else, and I definitely wouldn't want a boring start when I open a book. Even a book that starts kind of slowly can be interesting and that something that hooks the readers is what you want, both when you start in the middle of action or let it build up. I agree with Ellipse, If the first pages are boring I will put it down before even finishing the first chapter.
     
  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Provide one single boring or confusing line and the audition is over. And that's not opinion, it's researched data. Readers in the bookstore, on average, look at three pages before saying yes or no. And they will stop if something bores or makes them say, "Huh?

    A reader arrives on page one with only mild curiosity. All around them are books shouting, "Read me, I'm better." Add to that, your reader is seeking entertainment. So it doesn't take much to get a rejection: one strike and you're out.

    The reader begins on line one. And as they read that curiosity is going to fade unless you replace it with interest. The all time best opening line, the one that hooked me immediately and made me think I would like the book, opened with, "My mother was the village whore and I loved her very much." Anyone with the guts to open with that had my attention (Pigs don't fly, by Mary Brown).

    Had it opened with the author talking about things that happened before the story opened? Had it it with a lecture on things I should know in order to understand the actual story when it finally arrived? Screw that.

    Two relevant quotes:

    “Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.” ~ James H. Schmitz

    “A novel is like a car—it won’t go anywhere until you turn on the engine. The “engine” of both fiction and nonfiction is the point at which the reader makes the decision not to put the book down. The engine should start in the first three pages, the closer to the top of page one the better.”

    ~ Sol Stein
     
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  10. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    I've been bad on my wording, I meant a boring start as in not action oriented, kinda...Okay. It's not like background information or anything like that, more like the last shimmer of sun behind the mountains and then the story kicks in. If you know get what I'm trying to say.

    It's like you know that bad things will happen and that shits about to go down, but the chapter doesn't open with that shit going down! Oh god I'm good at explanations.
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read that book, so I don't know what comes after that line. But that line doesn't seem to me to be about the story (yet). Contrary to what you said, it is about things that happened before the story opened, and it is a lecture on things you should know to understand the actual story.

    So, don't screw that. o_O

    (It's a good opener, though; I'll grant you that.)
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Not to be too picky here, but when approaching a new car, the first thing you do NOT do is turn on the engine. You look at it, admire it from all angles, open the door, get in, get used to the controls, maybe check if the seats work, absorb that new-car smell, etc. THEN you start the engine. If the engine doesn't start, you've got a problem—but it's the look and feel of the car that first gets you interested in taking it for a ride.

    I'm kinda that way with stories, myself.
     
  13. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    We were told that, if we want our book published by a publisher (rather than self publish) you have to hook the publisher in first. And maybe even before that the agent......
    I am a lazy reader, if the book doesn't grab me from the beginning, I usually don't bother getting it.
    I am also a reader who loves to read the last pages in thrillers well before the end. Kind of gives me an insight on the rest of the story. I know....naughty....harder to do with kindle books.....
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely.

    Yes, that would have gotten my attention, too. But it isn't just the first sentence. It's what follows immediately after, what makes the reader turn those first few pages. I like to open with my MC already confronted with a problem, decision or dilemma. It doesn't have to be the problem (etc), just a problem (although it should be related to the problem). Some of my favorites from my readings:

    Advise and Consent - Allan Drury. Begins with the majority leader of the US Senate learning that the president has made a nomination for Secretary of State without telling him first. He's irritated but already doing preliminary head counts, which also serves to introduce us to various members of the senate while setting up the conflicts to come.

    Chesapeake - James A. Michener. Begins with a native American anxious because he knows his tribe has come to consider him an outsider and he begins to plot his escape. As he does, we are introduced to the layout of the eastern shore as well as some of the conflicts to come.

    The Story of Beautiful Girl - Rachel Simon. A young mother has just been packed off in a car to be returned to an institution while an elderly widow watches from the porch of her farmhouse and the baby sleeps, unbeknownst to the authorities, upstairs. The young mother's lover has escaped out a window. Just before being taken into custody, the mother whispers to the widow, "Hide her!" and the widow replies, "I will."

    In all three examples, there is background information to be given, but it is introduced only as the reader needs it, and when the reader would want it. And that's only after the reader has been drawn in.
     
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  15. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    IMO grab 'em at the first word, sentence, page and keep them interested.

    Else you're hoping they'll give you a chance.

    Besides. once the story is packed-full of interesting stuff, there's no reason to wait.
     
  16. Cailinfios
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    Cailinfios Member

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    IMO, it cna start with the description of a valley or the fight to the death or anything in-between, so long as the first chapter makes me want to read the second chapter.
     
  17. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Eh, to throw my own input in, the type of beginning I look for is one that doesn't show the whole picture. Personally, that's what would make me keep reading.

    For example, the latest book I've picked off the shelf begins as follows: "'Too old for this shit,' muttered Craw". It made me wonder, what exactly is this "shit" this unknown man speaks of. Turns out that it's war, or fighting. Had the book started with, say, "The battle had ended and many men lay dead around the hill", I may have been less inclined to read on, since I know exactly what's going on.
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Sure. That would be starting with a resolution. On the other hand, a lot depends on what comes after that first sentence. Tom Clancy's Executive Orders starts with Jack Ryan staring at the wreckage of an airliner that has just crashed into the Capitol Building. That's a resolution. But then we also discover that almost the entire government has been wiped out, Ryan is now president and he has to lead the rebuilding. Suddenly, no resolution. Plenty of conflict and tension to come!

    So, taking your example above, how about if we added the next couple of sentences:

    The resolution of the battle is replaced by the lack of resolution about Desmond, why he's a little rat, what he was about to tell Jason and whether he's even still alive. The challenge (and maybe this is the problem the OP is trying to avoid) is to maintain that tension and even ramp it up as the story unfolds.

    FWIW, I never trusted Desmond, either...
     
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