As you may know from my previous post, I am getting conflicting feedback on the first chapter of my sci-fi novel. Many of my beta readers liked how it just jumped into the action. These beta readers were regular readers. They weren’t writers or writing experts. When I did submit my first few chapters to someone considered as a writing expert, I was told that I needed to ground my character in his normal world first and give the readers a chance to get attached to him. So which is correct? A writing expert can’t be ignored, but neither can the genre of science fiction readers.
I’ve been doing some research. Here is a site that I found the most helpful – 6 Ways to Hook Your Reader From the Very First Line. Of the four things this helpful writer’s article says they find the most annoying in the first chapter, I committed two of them. I started with dialog and I introduced too many characters at once.
One of the six things this article suggested I do to hook the reader was to begin at a pivotal moment. This seems to conflict with the writing expert’s feedback I received. How can I possibly start with a pivotal moment if I’m taking time to ground my character in a normal world?
This article on hooking the reader has other suggestions that might help. I could make the reader wonder, I can create an interesting picture, I can introduce an intriguing character, I could start with an unusual situation, and/or I could begin with a compelling narrative voice. Let’s visit each of these options.
Make Your Reader Wonder
I think chapter 1 does a good job of making the reader wonder. Why are the Tredons running from a race of scavengers? What will J.D. find on the planet?
Create an Interesting Picture
I was told by many of my beta readers that this story has the feel of Star Trek. While many sci-fi readers probably love Star Trek, is this what I want? Perhaps I should try to create a world that is at least a little different from Star Trek. But how can I make it interesting? I’m at a bit of a loss here. Really, the only thing I can think of is to make the history a little different and focus more on the characters.
To make the history a little different, I took into consideration other feedback about how I used too many Earth terms in my story. Everyone in my story is human. Earth became uninhabitable many centuries ago. The human race traveled to other worlds, terraformed them, and started over. Starting over took time. Over many more centuries, the populations on these planets grew and the people evolved (or in some cases, devolved). Although space travel had been known in the past, they did not travel during this period. It wasn’t until they were fully developed again that they began to explore and seek one another out. That’s where the Prontaean Alliance comes in.
Of course, I won’t explain all this in the first chapter. But I will hint at it.
Introduce an Intriguing Character
One of my beta readers told me that Jori is the best developed character in the entire novel and that everyone else falls short. I’ve known this and I’ve been trying really hard to make J.D. just as interesting as Jori. I did this by adding his insecurity about his new position as commander because of the Kimpke incident. However, this seems to have made him weak-minded and not very compelling. I’m still brainstorming about this.
Start with an Unusual Situation
I think I’m on the right track with this one. I’ve got the reader wondering why the Tredons are running from a race of scavengers. But I think I need to enhance it a bit more. J.D. is wondering this, but I need to put more feeling into it.
Begin with a Compelling Narrative Voice
I rewrote the first chapter at one time to set the scene. I used a lot of flowery words. But a compelling narrative voice doesn’t just mean using flowery words. Since my story is written in close-third, the narrator is J.D. and J.D. isn’t a man of pretty words. So somehow, I have to catch the reader’s attention through J.D.’s voice.
Begin at a Pivotal Moment
This story isn’t just about how J.D. and Jori evolve from being enemies to being friends. It is also about how J.D. learns to fit in his role as commander. So my pivotal moment doesn’t have to be about how J.D. and Jori first meet. It can begin with J.D. feeling out of place.
Now that I have all this information, I’m going to try and tie it all together when rewriting the first chapter. I won’t start with dialogue. I’ll only introduce a few characters rather than several at once. I’ll try to create an interesting picture with J.D. being more intriguing with a compelling narrative voice. And I will try to make the pivotal moment be more character driven rather than action driven.
Stay tuned! I will try to get the first chapter rewrite for my novel posted next week. In the meantime, feel free to comment with your ideas on how I can make this story better.