From Kill Zone Blog: The Opening Chapter Reveals a Secret Vow
Except it’s not a secret. It’s actually an explicit promise: Here’s what the story is about. Here’s the main character. Here’s the problem. Here’s the setting.
This is the beginning of the linked post:
[This opening was] gripping, tense, love the story rhythm, the way he pauses at just the right moment. I could not flip the pages fast enough. Lovin’ every second of it! And then… In the next chapter, I find out it was all a dream.
Ouch. Yes, that would inspire a certain tendency toward Kindle-Hurling, though I trust we would all resist the impulse.
The post then goes on, now speaking of a different book:
We learn the protagonist is a child and her older sister is rescuing her from an imminent threat. …. the author did a terrific job of showing the action. Finally, I could sink into a gripping read. Or so I thought. …The next chapter consisted of pages and pages of backstory. No plot, only backstory. The premise still intrigued me, so I kept reading. Then I hit a flashback that dragged on for several pages. The worst part? It added nothing to the main storyline. … in Chapter 2, I read more pages and pages of backstory and another flashback. The next chapter was equally disappointing, with more pages of backstory and a third (fourth?) flashback. I lost count.
Whiplashed from being thrown forward, then backward, I couldn’t take it anymore and closed the book. A good premise will only take you so far. At some point, you need to deliver on the promise you made to the reader.
Bold is in the original. And yes. Also, by “at some point,” what we really mean is “pretty darn soon.”
This is reminding me of a similar phenomenon — the thing where you open the book and there’s this exciting first chapter, and then the protagonist gets killed and you start over with a different protagonist.
That, to me, feels like the same kind of broken promise. Here is the story! It’s about this protagonist! WHOOPS, FOOLED YOU. I don’t think that’s funny or cute or … I’m not sure what the author is actually going for. Shock? What that sort of bait-and-switch novel opening actually produces is disengagement, at least for me. I tolerate that only in murder mysteries and only because it’s so ordinary in that genre that it’s not a surprise. Even there, I don’t necessarily care for it.
This post ends by asking how many chapters you read before DNF a novel. I would actually sort of like to see a survey on that question with respondents categorized by age. I know that I used to give a novel more time; I know that I used to finish novels that I didn’t really like. I finished a few that seriously turned me off for one or another reason. I remember that, but I look back on it with real puzzlement. Why? Why did I do that to myself? There’s no shortage of other novels.
These days, I don’t think I give most novels a whole chapter before making a DNF decision. It’s more like a few pages — unless I have reason to go on farther than that. Reasons that matter: I trust the author, or someone I trust recommended the novel. Oh, and sometimes I can tell it’s just me; I’m not in the mood for that novel right now, but there’s a good chance I will be later. But overall, I usually give up on a novel before reaching the end of the first chapter.