Last week I wrote on the importance of the first page, if you haven’t seen it you can check it out here. This week I want to extend the conversation into the first chapter. The first chapter is one of the most important parts of your book, because it serves as the hook to get the reader to finish your novel. Aside from grabbing the attention of a reader, there are a few other critical roles that a first chapter fulfills.
The best question that I can ask when analyzing my first chapter is, “What promises have I made to the reader?” If I introduce a setting with a primary technology level of the 1800’s but four chapters later a character pulls out a cell phone, then I have broken a promise I made in the beginning. Broken promises can kick a reader out of a story. Almost as bad as a broken promise, is an unfulfilled promise. If I hint at a strong romance between two characters in the beginning but end the book without touching on that plot thread, it can leave readers feeling empty. It is important remember that the strength of your endings are directly tied to the promises you make in your beginnings.
The first portion of the book will also set the tone and atmosphere of the rest of the novel. If you begin reading a book in the middle of a tense action scene then it is likely that the book will have the same high-stakes style associated with that beginning scene. Word choice in the beginning can flavor what a reader thinks of the rest of the book. If everything is happy in the beginning then when things go south then the contrast appears more extreme.
The first chapter of your book is a critical tool for the rest of your story. It is up to you to employ that tool in the most effective way possible. If you have plan on what you want your introduction to accomplish then you can drastically improve the quality of your story.