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Critique: 10 Ways to Write a Better First Chapter Using Specific Word Choices by K.M. Weiland - Usa



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The one thing all writers are trying to do is write a better first chapter. First chapters are do-or-die territory. We know this as writers because we know this as readers. Most of us make our reading choices after scanning the first few paragraphs of a story. Sometimes we know if we want to go on after as little as a few sentences.


As writers who have put hundreds, even thousands of hours into writing the entirety of a book, we often feel this swift judgment is a little unfair. After all, first impressions aren’t always right. Several of my all-time favorite books weren’t ones that grabbed me off the bat; it was only my compulsive perseverance that allowed me to open up these stories’ true gifts. But 75-90% of the time, readers are going to make the correct decision about a book after reading just the first chapter or so.


Why is this? How can readers make an accurate decision about a book with so little information? What little signals are writers giving readers that let them quickly make up their minds?


Ultimately, what readers are looking for are signs that the writer has skill enough to be trusted with their time. Readers can’t know from the first chapter whether or not the writer can spin a good yarn all the way to a satisfying conclusion. But readers will always recognize whether or not the writer knows how to write. A skillful writer can hook readers through prose alone. The reader thinks, Ahh, this is good—and suddenly that all-important trust in the writer’s skills begins to percolate.


Learning From Each Other: WIP Excerpt Analysis


Today’s post is the sixth in an ongoing series in which I am analyzing the excerpts you have shared with me. My approach to these critiques is a little different from those you normally see on writing blogs. Instead of editing each piece, I’m focusing on one particular lesson that can be drawn from each excerpt, so we can deep-dive into the logic and process of various useful techniques.


Today, my thanks to Dawna J. Wightman for sharing from her dark fantasy FARR. Her excerpt immediately hooked me. If I were scanning this book on Amazon, I would want to read on. That’s why I want to break down what, specifically (and that’s the key word), grabbed me and made me believe she is an author I can trust to tell me a ripping good tale.


Let’s take a look! The bolded entries and subscript numbers will correspond with the tips I’ll talk about in subsequent sections.


Before the bad thing happened,1 we were just us five Raessen kids running around the farm.2 Sure, we took sides: the Peter Liam Bob team against me and Shone. Odin wasn’t born yet. When everybody was getting along we’d play chase or tag or hide-and-seek, but just me and Shone, just the two of us, was the best. Queen Shone and Queener Campanula.3 We’d spin bits of fleece from the farmer’s sheep, play dress up and pretend we were trying to escape the evil fairy king by reading messages written in blood across egg yolks that we tossed back in triumph.4 When it was just me and Shone, we always won. Me and Shone were closer than quarter to nine.5


Us kids fished in the creek and it didn’t matter that nobody knew how to swim. The nearest farm was miles away, so it was just us to hang around with—us and Ma and Dad in the rented farm house. Cozy.6


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