“Bad” First Chapter (that serves a purpose)

We’ve all been told how critical the first chapter is…

My dilemma comes from a first chapter that is “bad” for a reason.

I have a YA/Teen Fiction novel with a very short Chapter 1 (only 891 words) that I’m taking a gamble on.

Nothing much happens in the chapter (no dialogue between characters, no major action) and it’s very much inside the head of the main character… But it sets up the whole narrative concept and “voice” of the story - that the MC buys a marbled notebook, which she is currently writing in, so the entire story will be told in a journal style (fluctuating between past and present tense depending on which part of her day she is writing about, “breaking the fourth wall” when she writes asides to her best friend who she lets read the journal, etc.)

Since the MC is a 16 year old, and she isn’t writing for a graded assignment, the storytelling isn’t always going to be superb (she shouldn’t be writing like James Joyce or George Eliot at her age) and I really wanted her first entry to feel a bit scattered, so I can hopefully show growth in her personality and her writing through the later entries.

My question is -

Should I scrap this opening, because I know it might not hook readers, and try to begin the story another way?

Or is it better to keep it because it does serve a purpose to the larger arc and themes of the novel?

Is 891 words too many words to gamble with?

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As someone who lives in terror of chapter 1, I would try an alternative start & see if you can arrive at something that you are 100% sure is the absolute best you can do to hook up the readers.

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Personally I love my opening.

An author I respect read it and “got it” so I was really happy with that. (And hopeful that means an agent might too)

I’m just not sure about the average teen reader though.

I think reading journal-style writing is very intriguing. It directly connects you with the character.

Is this a prologue to your story or the first chapter?

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If you’re writing for an average teen reader, there is a lot of them here, so they should be able to help you out with an amalgamated teen opinion :slight_smile:

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Not a prologue.

Here’s the first bit of the blurb -

“Standing in aisle three of the local chain pharmacy on a random March day in 1994, high school junior Melissa Anderson has a realization. Her life is like a stick of deodorant; it is slowly disappearing, little by little, day by day. But unlike deodorant, she can’t buy a new life when this one runs out. So Melissa decides that maybe it’s time to step out of her comfort zone and get a little bit sweaty.”

So basically she has this revelation in the pharmacy and then goes to another aisle and buys a notebook to start writing about it and how she needs to change up her life.

That’s the first entry.

The second entry comes after she walks home from the pharmacy - she stops off at the local video store to apply for a job - then journals about that.

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So far it’s mostly attracted older readers - I think the 1994 setting is hitting that nostalgia button.

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So, maybe they’re your target demographics then, and there is no need to change things for the teens? I mean, you’re unlikely to rewrite the book? It sounds like Bridget Jones Diary start too kind of, and that is also pointing to older audience. YA is more like “I suddenly became a Princess” type diary vs the I’m sixteen, and I wanna my life to be meaningful. Unless it’s Greta’s biopic?

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Maybe.

But are Chicklit readers really going to want to read about a 16 year old?

I’m very far away from querying this, but I can’t imagine approaching agents with this as a Chicklit story and not YA.

Also - it hasn’t had a huge amount of reads so far on here, even from adults.

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I wouldn’t need to rewrite most of it, but I could change up Chapter 1…

How exactly? I’m not sure.

But if 891 words would prevent me from getting an agent then I’d figure it out :joy:

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Don’t change or rewrite anything. It is great this way. Readers will read it; teens and adults included.

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I hope you’re right :crossed_fingers:

Thanks! :blush:

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Are you writing a story for writers or for readers?

If you’re trying to pursue some literary aspirations and art that makes other authors go “Oh I get it, I see what you’re going for here, interesting technique” then sure, open with a framing device.

If you’re trying to pursue commercial writing/popularity and appeal to an audience, no, you don’t need a framing device. You’re basically risking commercial appeal for literary merit, which is the wrong kind of gamble.

This would be the equivalent of wagering money to win tokens. You should be wagering money to earn potentially more money. If you earn something entirely different than you’ve lost something, and if your opening appeals to more literary minded people and then the rest of the story continues with commercial appeal, you lose the literary people and you already lost the commercial people with your opening.

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Interesting food for thought.

I don’t think I get too “literary” with it.

I do honestly feel like the journal concept and slightly self-reflective tone of the story needs some sort of framing.

Hmmmm. I suppose I’ll just need to get more teen readers to try it out and then decide.

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So you’re effectively ignoring my advice to go see if someone else will confirm your original plan?

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No. Not ignoring it at all.

I know it has some appeal for adults and “authors” but without enough actual teens reading it yet, I guess I don’t really know where it tips too far from commercial into the “literary” yet.

The story is far from complete, and when I go back in for edits, I can change it.

I think if I get a few more of the intended market to sample I’ll know for sure how much exactly I need to tweak in Chapter 1 - like should I cut most of it and combine the remains with Chapter 2…

So I do value your input. As I said - food for thought. That’s not a phrase I use lightly. Honestly, your advice will be bubbling through my brain for weeks, and will be at the forefront when I take a red pen to the chapter.

You can certainly ignore my advice, I’m not a god in any sense, nor am I the master, and it’s the type of thing that gets solved by markets.

It’s also the kind of thing where one time it works but 99 other times it doesn’t.

I say it only to warn about the mindset of coming to a space to look for answers but then not being fully open-minded to receiving them. I’m not the first person in this to suggest changing the opening. Those who suggest a change are met with “maybe, I’ll have to test it.” Those who don’t suggest a change get a “Thanks!” which indicates a sort of confirmation bias in what you’re seeking out.

So it’s fine to say you aren’t going to go with my advice and are going to test it (the data of existing books would indicate that stories that are journalistic in their delivery just jump right into “Dear Diary” with no issues about framing), just make sure if you come with a question, you’re going to be okay with people giving you the disheartening or harder answer

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I’m sorry I forgot to add “Thanks!” before on my initial response. I am of course thankful.

I’m reading and responding while going about my daily responsibilities (such as grocery shopping right now - because I’m Mom first and then writer second) so I’m trying to process and multitask at the same time - and forgot to add the “Thanks!”

The food for thought more comes in the where/how to merge it exactly. Finding the tipping point is what I need to figure out. Not that I’m disregarding. Your comment is making my gears turn - and sending my brain on multiple pathways the opening could take right now (as I’m buying half & half) - which is good!!!

So again Thank you!

The first chapter is the onboarding process for book. Get it right, and you’ve hooked a reader. Get it wrong and they’re gone for good. This is even more true Wattpad.

So the first chapter should epitomize everything that’s good about the book, to hook the reader and draw them in. If your first chapter is very different to what follows, you’re either underselling or mis-selling it.

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Of course.

And an adult reader getting what I’m going for is different from a teen reader picking it up.

But you query adults. And while they have a pulse on the market, they still aren’t teens themselves…

I don’t think my first chapter is massively different than the rest. It’s slightly different because the MC is having a bit of a panic attack and the first entry has something of a stream of consciousness or confessional thing going.

She actively tries to tell more of a “story” in the other chapters.

I’ve always assumed that a lot depends on the “voice” of a character in this journalistic style, and if people like that voice they will read on.

But maybe that’s not always the case.

There’s a bit of marketing science behind clicks and e-reading that I don’t always understand.

Maybe readers will not click beyond the 891 words, but if I merged virtually those exact same 891 words with the 1,482 words of Chapter 2 (where a cute boy is introduced), then they would read the entire combined 2,373 between the two, and then click on after that because there is a subtle science and art to these things and introducing said boy in Ch 1 will help.

My gears are turning. I must think on it more.

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