Sunday, January 26, 2014

6 Tips to Hook Readers in the First Chapter

It's the age-old question: how can I make people interested in my book from the first page? Scores of writers have tried, and scores have failed. Lucky for you, not all hope is lost. There IS a system, and working it the right way will get more people interested in what you have to say quicker.

Follow these guidelines and you'll be on the right track! 


Introduce your main character and tell the reader who he is without listing it all out, point-by-point.  The faster the reader knows something, the better.  Try to make this happen within 1-4 paragraphs if possible, and don't make it lengthy, or the reader will get bored and start skimming for tidbits of information.


I think you can see how most of these tips are going to be "Do this ASAP".  Remember, the faster people learn the exposition, the more intrigued they'll be, and your book stands a chance being read all the way through.

Open with a question that is relevant to the plot.  Don't try to make the reader wonder what your main character had for breakfast.  People want an intricate question that piques their curiosity and forces them to move forward with the story.  Anything less and they'll put your book back on the shelf.  However, answer the question quickly.  Feed the reader.  Then raise another. Maybe take a bit more time answering that question.

Create a SNOWBALL EFFECT of Q&A.  Send your reader down a hill so that they can't put the book away!

Well, that escalated quickly.


Play on emotion.  Make your reader feel sympathetic, or angry, or happy, or sad.  Give them emotional satisfaction quickly.  Why should they care about your characters?  Buffy Andrews says:  "Three words for a writer:  Make me care."  This is completely true. The reader should care about the characters and what is happening to them.  Create that emotional connection from the get-go, and you'll have them hooked.  Then delve into deeper characterization so readers care more as the story progresses.


This is similar to the emotional portion, but there is a difference, I swear.  Attaching readers emotionally makes them feel for the characters.  Characterization develops those characters as believable people we can relate to (or non-people). Develop your characters quickly and show readers who they are in as few words as possible.  "Brevity is the soul of wit."  The faster the reader sees that this is actually a real person doing real things in real places, the faster they will fall into your story's world, and that is EXACTLY what you want to happen.  Turn words into people.

Make unique characters!


Show readers that the characters want something.  Secure the idea that there will be a journey to a goal that will govern the rest of the story. The main character has to NEED this goal. It must fuel their passion to go on a journey. Whatever their goal, they will endure thick and thin to obtain it. Show that your character is missing something so important, he is willing to do whatever it takes.


Just make sure you don't take to long.  If possible, create the conflict by the end of the first chapter, and follow these guidelines:

A.  Make sure the conflict sparks this question:  "How will the characters overcome the conflict?"
B.  Try to strum at the reader's heartstrings when the conflict happens.  Make her feel sympathetic, or angry, or happy, or sad.  Playing with emotions is one of the strongest techniques in storytelling.
C.  When the conflict strikes, make it clear that in order to overcome the conflict, the character's morals and values and choices will be challenged.  The character will be hard-pressed to obtain his goal, and will be further characterized through the conflict.

Do you have anything to add? Share it in the comments! 


  1. This is so right on target. I learned about the characterization through screenwriting study, and all of this is = perfect. Excellent post Scalex!!

  2. Great post. Excellent points.

    (Editor hat.... "to to the plot" #2.)

    1. Ah, the infamous Freudian Slip.....thanks for the catch!