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How to hook your reader on First Chapter?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Rodrigo, Jun 24, 2019.

  1. Rodrigo

    Rodrigo New Member

    Hello guys,

    I have been researching about this theme for quite a while and i had a great idea about how i would start my first chapter but i`m not sure it is right to do it so I came here looking for your opinion.

    I intend to start my first chapter with one of my main characters having memories from the past right before he faces "death" on the arena. He remembers how life is cruel and a crucial and bloody moment in his life in the first pages while the arena gates are open and he stands up to face his challenge.

    Another option i was thinking of was using a future event from the story on the first chapter, tell the reader something that is going to happen just to give them a little taste about it. For example starting the book with a great epic battle out of nowhere, but on chapter 2 coming back to the present moment. What do you guys think of this?

    Please, give me your honest opinions on these 2 ideas that i had for a hook on chapter 1, if it is good or not and why it is or it is not.
  2. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Sage

    My honest opinion without reading the two scenes you have in mind, because for all I know you could be an incredible writer capable of pulling anything off and both of these scenarios could work. So I'm not saying don't do one, just that there are a few things you should look out for. Also you gave us no details on what your flashbacks really consist of.

    "I intend to start my first chapter with one of my main characters having memories from the past right before he faces "death" on the arena. He remembers how life is cruel and a crucial and bloody moment in his life in the first pages while the arena gates are open and he stands up to face his challenge."

    This is the sort of thing they'd do in a movie and it may not translate well in a novel. Memories of past events is not going to engage the reader because no one is going to care yet. Also there is no hook present in this idea. You're not presenting them with an active character, giving them much information on the character, the themes or plot. What is/will be the character's story goal? No idea from the description you just gave. I have no idea of this characters personality at all. He's a warrior of some kind right now, but that doesn't necessarily mean this is what your plot is going to be. It just doesn't tell me anything. So in half a page or whatever I've maybe learned something crucial in the characters life but is it crucial to me? Is it important to the rest of the story? I have no idea right now so for me it would be meaningless.

    Another option i was thinking of was using a future event from the story on the first chapter, tell the reader something that is going to happen just to give them a little taste about it. For example starting the book with a great epic battle out of nowhere, but on chapter 2 coming back to the present moment. What do you guys think of this?

    Some people like that style. I personal don't because I like to not know unless it is really going to irk me throughout the novel but to just give me a taste of the epicness to come feels more like the authors desperate attempt to hook me. So we have this epic chapter of an epic battle then we just back in time in the second chapter to them sitting on a river bank fishing before anything epic happens. Very much an anti-climax and I don't like feeling “tricked” into reading a book with a false hook.

    I would advise you to study “character moments” which is a method for introducing the character in a way that tells as much about them and they coming up story as possible. Charlotte Bronte is very good at this trick, especially in her novel “Jane Eyre”. First impressions are important in a story and you have a fairly small window of opportunity to hook your readers. I don't know how much work you've done on your characters but there are a few core parts that make a complex character. So take a look at those and ask yourself, what scenes could you create that tease some of these things.
    Also, look at novels that have a reputation for a killer opening and a hook to see how they do it.

    All the Best
    Firefly and Rodrigo like this.
  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    How do you hook a reader? Make the reader care. It's that simple, and that hard, and each of us has to discover a way to make it happen. Without reading your chapter, there really isn't a good way to say if you've pulled it off. All you can do is write the scene to the best of your ability, pass it along to your crit partner(s), and hope that you hit the target. As you become more experienced, you'll develop a better gauge for how viable an idea is.

    How do you hook a reader? Write the chapter and find out.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm skeptical about hooking the reader because that phrase implies there's only one kind of reader. But there are many kinds of readers. Not only that, they come to the book under many different circumstances. What would hook Reader X today might not hook that same reader next week.

    But let's leave all that aside. Your two notions consist of starting with memories or starting in the future. Why not start right now? You have a characters about to enter an arena (presumably in a fight to the death). Any reason *not* to start there?
  5. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Troubadour

    Memories from the past put me off pretty quickly, and visions from the future almost as fast. I agree with Skip—Why not start in the present? Make readers care about what's happening right now.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I would not use a flashback to do this. I normally hate flashbacks because they take me out of the present. I'm here to read this story, not some other story about things that happened then.

    But you can insert memories as character POV thoughts and observations that are happening in the present. E.g.,

    The arena's sand was already soaked in red where Grog stood, so he shifted his position two steps to the left and tightened his grip on his sword. Any moment now, the great wooden gate before him would open and some Hlafian berserker would come roaring at him. They were always Hlafian these days, and they always roared. The first time, years ago when he was barely a man, the swirling axe, intricate white body paint, and animalistic roar had almost killed him. Then, he froze; but now, he crouched, his muscles tense, ready to spring at the first opportunity. He liked silencing those roars.

    They reminded him of his father.

    He cursed and shifted once more, a fraction of a step. He had no time for his father. The drums had started, and the crowd's persistent buzz had increased in volume. The doors were about to open.
    Something like this doesn't take us out of the moment but can actually heighten the moment. (I've inserted a memory of his first fight against a Hlafian, suggested something about his current age and experience as a fighter in the arena, and hinted at his past relationship with his father.)

    I'm not at all against having a prologue set in the future, but it would need to be handled with care. It, itself, needs to be evocative, add some intrigue, perhaps be startling.

    The problem with a flash forward is the same problem with flashbacks. They take us out of the present. If you start in the future, then when you go back to the present, this can feel jarring—especially if the flash forward does all those thing I mentioned. A reader can become hooked in that moment and not want to leave it for some more boring or mundane moments.

    So I'd suggest leaving it brief but evocative and being very clear that it's a flash forward (to prepare the reader for the leap to the present.) This is one of the reasons I suggest doing it in prologue rather than as chapter one.

    That said, starting at a moment of battle and trying to make the battle evocative—like starting in the middle of any action scene—presents a lot of high energy but without a reason for the reader to care about what is happening. The reader doesn't yet know the context or the characters involved. Why should the reader care about it? If you use a flash forward involving a battle, I'd suggest focusing very tightly on a character, make it feel "present," and give us lots of reasons to care about what is happening. These can range from making the character sympathetic real fast to making events of the battle and/or the issues involved striking, unusual, horrifying, etc. I'm not saying it can't be done, but be aware that readers may not care about it just because it's a battle.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
    Gray-Hand and Rodrigo like this.
  7. Nomadica

    Nomadica Troubadour

    Other than loosing his life, are there any other long term consequences? If I was reading a flash forward it would help if it was relevant to the outcome of this battle. Maybe having him imagine what would become of his family if he lost.
  8. Rodrigo

    Rodrigo New Member

    I really loved your feedback, thank you very much, I appreciate it. I am very new to writing, this is actually my first time ever and I am afraid of doing the right start for the story I`m trying to tell. That been said, I apologize for the lack of knowledge or explanation on my ideas, but I think you understood very well what i was planning to do and gave some very good insights. Thank you!
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Don't worry about it. You're a first time author so you'll start the story ten different ways anyway.

    I know that's not much help. I know you'll worry about it anyway. You might even consider starting the story both ways you've suggested--you need the practice. Chances are very high you'll wind up with something else!
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    In the past, I have submitted my first chapters to this site for 'flogging:'

    Flogging the Quill

    The premise being a new author has just one page to convince a reader to continue with the book, so that first page better be good. I find his advice of value, but take issue with some of the details. Among other things, he's failed the first pages of 4 and 5 star novels.
    FifthView likes this.
  11. Yes, by all means, as skip said above, write it both ways and then a third, a fourth and a fifth!

    I'm not one for dismissing a book simply for the way it starts but I will say, as we all have heard so many times in writing advice, no matter how it begins I need to care about your character from the beginning. A lot of us have made the mistake of thinking danger equals immediate empathy and attachment, which is not true.

    For me, starting with a high action scene/battle from the future will do little on its own to make me care because I can assume the character is going to survive at least to that future point in the story. Of course, most main characters make it through the entire story but I'm never thinking about that when I start a book unless it starts with such a scene.

    I'd add that if there is so much going on and I have had no time to get to know your character, then it falls flat for me. I recently read a YA book that began with an opening line that let you know the character you were about to meet would die soon and yet, in the following pages (the character did meet her demise at the end of chapter one) the author made me care about her and gave me a wicked sense of the world, the antagonist, made promises and planted a wealth of hooks for the chapters that followed.

    And a memory from the past, while not ideal either, can work but there must be a very good and resonant reason for the flashback. Something in the situation the character faces in the present triggers the flashback. The grating sound of the gate opening or the roar of a crowd reminds them of some horror they experienced or witnessed from their past. I'll come along if I can believe the flashback was spurred for a good reason and was not just there as exposition. And yet, I still won't care about the character til you've connected with me on a more internal level. If I look back at my own life and the times I have faced serious danger directly in front of me, I cannot recall my fight or flight brain once thinking of my past, only what it was going to take to get me out of the current predicament. . . so be wary of that as it can seem unrealistic. :) As others above have mentioned, you can work those past memories in shortly after we have met the protagonist in the here and now which will, ultimately, hook more readers to your character before taking them there. And once we care, we will come along for the ride into their pasts.

    So write it all for your own practice and exploration of your character and see where it takes you! It will pay off to do so and I wish you the best in your adventures!
  12. Other people are giving good advice so I’ll just contribute this: If you haven’t actually written the book yet, just start where you think the story does and write until you get to the end. Then, and only then, worry about the hook. If you try to get everything just right ahead of time you’ll be stuck forever, and the first chapter is a really popular place to get stuck.

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