Want to Hook Readers With Your First Chapter? This Is the Single Best Way

Want to Hook Readers With Your First Chapter? This Is the Single Best Way

Writers are told time and again to start their stories with a bang. Open in the middle of a murder, a high-speed car chase, or heist-in-progress, and readers will be instantly hooked, right? How is it, then, that Margaret Atwood dares open her hefty contemporary novel The Robber Bride with a main character’s morning routine: waking up, getting dressed, taking out the garbage, making breakfast. This chapter is hardly the stuff of tabloid headlines. In fact, this is exactly what young writers are told not to do. At first glance, it might seem that Atwood only gets away with this because she’s the Canadian grande dame of fiction, with a dozen bestsellers already under her belt.

However, a second look shows that the only reason Atwood “gets away” with it is because she’s a master storyteller who knows exactly what she’s doing. The very first thing she does in opening her story is to raise a question. In a few poetic paragraphs, she introduces a character, known to the three main characters, and then drops the bombshell: this character has reappeared on the scene years after her own funeral. How can readers not keep reading?

This superb hook gives Atwood immediate leeway in slowing down to introduce characters and develop their personalities. Even still, hauling us through one woman’s morning routine could easily test our patience. Who cares what time the clock reads when the character wakes up, or if the garbage needs taken out? Get to the point already! But Atwood gives us a character so unique and interesting that even her most mundane morning rituals become insights into her personality and windows to the answer to the question that originally hooked us. It takes a skillful author to make a reader care about all this minutiae, especially at the beginning of a novel. But in The Robber Bride, Atwood shows us how to deliver the one-two punch—a killer hook and fascinating characterization—that makes her writing so unforgettable.

Want to Hook Readers With Your First Chapter? This Is the Single Best Way

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Susan Brillhart says

    Struggling with your Podcast archives. I search a topic, for example “first chapter” and a list of titles come up with dates. October, 2010 was one for this topic. I open a new window so I can go to that date without losing my search. I go to 2010, October. The title is not there. I double check. Nope that was the correct date. Double check title, nope not there. This has happened more than once. Last night I seached POV and about 25% of the time the date given did not provide the Podcast I was looking for. Frustrating. It would be much better if I could just click on the title I find with your search engine and it take me to the podcast. Then no problem with incorrect information and having to have to windows open.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sorry you’re having difficulties! I looked into it, but I’m having trouble replicating the problem. Are you using the search field in the top of the right-hand column?

  2. Mic Meguiar says

    Having trouble opening this post. The link pops up with a “This blog is open to invited readers only” message. Any way to post the entire article directly to your site?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Looks like the site on which the post was originally published is now defunct. I’ve updated the post with the full text, above. Thanks for letting me know!

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