by Whitney Carter
If you’re anything like me, I have a hard time writing if I can’t get a story’s hook correct. It will bother the daylights out of me, so that I write a sentence or two, then go back and try to edit the first line, which usually results in having to hit the backspace button on the following sentences as well. Even the tried and true advice to write now and edit later is only minimally effective here.
Part of setting up an effective hook though is effective follow up. If the first sentence is the bait, the entire intro (whether it’s a prologue or chapter one) is the hook, and the two need to work exceptionally well together. In addition to walking the tightrope between setup and info dump, here are a few other things to consider weaving into your intro:
A grounded perspective
Your novel intro should ground your readers in the protagonist’s perspective, though this doesn’t necessarily mean that the main character has to make an appearance. This can be done via a secondary character who lines up well with your MC, or in a place or with an item that has some kind of special meaning you can revisit.
A mini arc
Consider also writing into the first chapter a miniature arc, something self-contained that gives your readers a little bit of instant gratification and elicits an emotion, all the while tantalizing and propelling forward into the story’s larger plot. Think of it as a short story within your larger one, and take the opportunity to show what you can do with a few words and with a lot.
A suggestion of the end
I suggest this one on a case by case basis more than the others, largely because it just doesn’t always do to have hints so early in the book. I love foreshadowing as much as the next gal, but this is a technique best used with a delicate hand. If I were to include something in the beginning chapter that will also be in the last, it’s usually an object, something that’s not going to draw attention when read through, but when readers get to that last page, and are reminded of the first they get chills down their spines.
Practically everything we write is going to touch on one of the senses, but in the first chapter you should make an effort to kind of theme it. If readers are immediately listening to a nasally and pushy store clerk, you want them to hear the stickiness of the tiles underfoot, to smell the mix of cigarette smoke and gasoline, to see the man’s yellowed teeth as he refuses to shut up. You must enable your readers to visualize where they are for your story, and continue to deliver on the promise of that first chapter the whole way through.
Guest post contributed by Whitney Carter. Whitney is an avid fantasy writer and blogger currently working on her debut novel, Alpha Female. When not writing, she can be found either under a large pile of purring cats or amid collapsed bookshelves. You can find more of her work here and here.