I’ve been writing the second draft (third version) of that first chapter prematurely to give to the artist I’ve mentioned. It’s gotten me thinking of what a really good first chapter is meant to accomplish, what it should contain ideally. What I’ve come up with is a bit different than what I’ve seen other writers discuss on craft, and I thought that I’d share.
Everyone talks about ‘hooks’. … You know what? Forget the hook. Forget the clever first line. You’re not working on a magazine ad. Write material that’s gripping and worth reading, something that starts strong and dives in without waiting for permission from the reader. Let your skill be a ‘hook’.
I say this because so much stress is always put into those first few lines, and all it’s done for me is to feel like some sort of gimmick. The purpose of the hook is very valid! But going out of your way to write a good ‘hooking statement’ rather than working on the composition of the book and chapter itself seems too much like a facade of elegance, a layer of costume cosmetics, and I think emphasis on this is misleading. First learn to convey an idea.
For this project, setting was drastically important. ‘Blue Crystal’ is so much unlike any other fantasy story that I’ve ever read. I worked hard to keep the setting and idea original. It’s worked. But it also means that people just coming in won’t know what to expect, and for that, establishing the setting (place, people, customs) is vitally important. If it were just another generic fantasy I’d stick in a dwarf and set it in a bar. No description needed. Everyone and their assorted relatives could fill in the details while multitasking. Excuse me while I shiver.
The first chapter should also hint at all the other elements that will be used in the book, not only the mechanisms, but also the scenery and themes. The reader should know what kind of story this is, and establishing everything well in advance means that you have very clear boundaries on why the hero is very restricted in certain ways, that he can’t just ‘solve’ his problems with magic. Just find a realistic way to accomplish this– don’t become a contortionist writer for a few paragraphs to show things off. Fine a way to make them work.
I’m almost done with the chapter, and unlike much of my craft I’m actually very pleased with it so far. It’s starting to come into focus.