Brian’s Writers Only

Brian Ratty

Dutch Plate

Crafting a “Reader’s Catnip” First Chapter

Recently, I was asked to review an advance copy of a new book, Indestructible, that will be released in October 2016. It’s the thrilling, true story of one man’s personal sacrifices during WWII. Having agreed to do the review, I devoured the book, all 500 pages, like a chainsaw. When finished, I asked myself why I’d been so enthralled with this story. After some reflection, I realized it was the first chapter that had addicted me: the author had crafted a masterful beginning.

When I start a new project, I consider the first chapter as the ‘story setup.’ It plays the important role of introducing the reader to the main characters and the plot. It sets the stage for the 5W’s (who, what, where, when and why), and dresses the set with a flavor of what’s to come. In other words, it draws the reader into the storyline, and propels them into the action, the time, and the place. If done right, it lets the author grab on to the reader and hold them tightly until the last page. That’s what I call ‘catnip for readers’ and a winner for writers.

First chapters and opening lines can make or break any book, by any author, on any subject. The author of Indestructible wrote his first chapter in such a way that it became the welcoming anchor for the entire story. His first chapter held my attention and captivated my imagination. But how and why?

The chapter starts with an enduring first line: “In a handmade four poster bed, beneath a white, homespun quilt, Paul Irvin “P.I.” Gunn lay beside his wife of twenty years.” Then the third-person narrator becomes the storyteller by using ordinary items and actions as the main character is introduced to the reader. The objects are simple, like the bed itself: a Navy wristwatch, bamboo floors and a razor. His activities are simple as well; rising from bed, putting in his teeth, showering, shaving, and dressing in a long sleeve shirt to cover up a lowbrow tattoo. Each object mentioned and each action taken becomes the predictor as the storyline and characters unfold with brilliantly crafted words.

The author takes risks with his words, as well. He allows readers to use their own imagination while the story reads like a gripping novel, not a dry historical account. By the end of only twelve short pages, set in a single scene with limited dialog, I was hooked on the main character, his family, his past, and the basic plot. The pages just flowed by, like a crystal-clear mountain stream. Hats off to the author who crafted such a creative example of the ‘reader’s catnip’ concept. I envy his talent! See my review.

Printable PDF file 50 Power Words that Sell