This is a guest post by Rachel McClellan. Rachelwas born and raised in Idaho, a place secretly known for its supernatural creatures. When she’s not in her writing lair, she’s partying with her husband and four small children. Her love for storytelling began as a child when the moon first possessed the night. For when the lights went out, her imagination painted a whole new world. And what a scary world it was”¦
Writing the first chapter of a novel is very difficult. Where to begin? A common mistake writers often make is telling readers everything about their main character: where they grew up, why they hate Aunt Sally, why they sleep in the upstairs room instead of the one in the basement, etc. And all this in the first chapter before the real story even begins. This is called backstory. Lame. Boring. I’m already asleep.
A common rule authors go by is the “two minute rule”. That means a novel has just two minutes to capture the attention of the reader. The last thing an author wants is for a reader to start reading their book but then get distracted by thinking of the laundry they need to switch when they get home.
So how do you capture a reader’s attention in two short minutes? By following the 3 C’s rule: Capture, Captivate, and Convince.
You must capture you’re readers attention. You can do this many ways, but one helpful tidbit of advice comes from fiction editor Beth Hill who stresses the importance of knowing your genre and your audience. She recommends the following:
- A murder mystery should open with a murder.
- Suspense, thrillers and horror should set the reader on edge, get his emotions churning. These books, even from the start, should make the reader uneasy or fearful or expectant.
- Romance should introduce hero and/or heroine in an appealing or amusing or lustful way.
- Literary novels should introduce an intriguing character, someone readers will be eager to know
Another way to capture attention is with a sharp, strong voice, an engaging style, and starting the action and story immediately, rather than spending a chapter describing your character’s morning or looks.
The best way to captivate your readers is to introduce conflict as soon as possible. There is no story without conflict. Your main character must want something, but because of different obstacles, they can’t get it. This is conflict.
Go re-read your first chapter and ask yourself, “What does my main character want? Why can’t she have it?” If you can answer these questions easily, you’re off to a great start.
In addition to all of the above, you must also convince your readers that the events in your story are actually taking place. To do this you have to punch them in the gut with two fists named emotion and environment. Give your readers an emotion they can relate to, and give them an environment they can feel. Incorporate all five senses if you can.
If you follow these easy rules, you will have a first chapter that will be sure to capture the interest of agents and editors, and most importantly, your readers.