Beginnings And Their Endings
My view has always been that great first lines are overrated. Famous opening lines tend to become famous after the fact. Once a book becomes acclaimed or well-loved, the opening takes on a significance that it didn’t have to start with. Nobody read “Call me Ishamel” and thought, Genius!
First paragraphs are overrated too. Orson Scott Card has a theory that the first paragraph is a freebie, and I’m inclined to agree with him.
The first paragraph can be in a different POV, be generic or introductory, set the tone, or be the lyric from a song. It doesn’t really matter and readers don’t really expect it to be consistent with the rest of the book.
Ever since somebody came up with Once upon a time… readers have understood that.
First chapters, however, are important.
They didn’t used to be, or at least not as much as they are now, but with the way ebooks are sold, allowing only access to the first few pages, it is much more likely that reader will read that sample and use it to decide on whether or not to make the purchase.
That isn’t how I would choose to judge a book. My experience is that openings of books rarely give an accurate indication of whether the rest of the story will be any good. Sometimes a book starts great and stays that way till the end, but rarely. Sometimes they start well and fade, other times they’re slow to get going and then come into their own.
However, the emphasis on the first chapter is changing because of online sites offering the first chapter for free. And not only does it matter that you give the reader something to draw them in, it also helps if the end of that chapter makes them want to keep reading (i.e. buy the book).
Of course, this will lead to a lot of gimmicky ends of first chapters of the kind where something outrageous and inexplicable happens to make the reader want to know what happens next. Despite knowing it’s a writerly ruse, enough people will be unable to resist to make it a ruse worth considering.
Whatever your thoughts on what should be happening in your first chapter, if you hope to sell it online, it’s worth bearing in mind how important the opening few pages will be, and while not every story should start like a cheap thriller, it might be an idea to think of chapter one like the first part of a serial.
Check out my latest stories for free on Wattpad.
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