The Importance of the Opening Chapter (Or, How Much is Your Money/Time Worth To You?)

How important is the first chapter of a book? Oh, I don’t know. How important is that first bite of steak you’re about to drop $30 dollars on at the new steakhouse everyone’s been talking about? It’s all about first impressions. If that first bite is too rare, full of gristle or just plain bad tasting, are you going to continue eating it or are you going to send it back for something else? For me, I’m sending it back. I rather like my money and if I’m going to spend that much of it on a meal, that meal better be everything I hoped it would be.

The same goes for the first chapter of a book. Like my money, my time is important to me. My ‘books to be read’ stack continues to grow by the day. I’ve already resigned myself to the fact I’ll never get through them all. The reality is there will still be unread books on my shelves long after I’m dead and gone. So when I pick up a new book, that first chapter better interest me. It doesn’t have to be the best piece of writing I’ve ever read. It doesn’t have to lay the entire story at my feet. But it better at least pique my interest. It should compel me to read on for one reason or another. Preferably because I care for the characters already, though that’s not an absolute requirement of mine. A chapter that simply makes me wonder ‘what’s gonna happen next?’ will suffice. Otherwise, like that bad steak, I’m sending that particular book back for something else. And I’ve done this more than a few times.

Now some people will say, ‘give it a chance. It might get better.’ But no. First impressions, remember? Right or wrong, I figure if the author can’t come up with a compelling first chapter, how interesting could the rest of the book be? And how much time do I want to waste ‘hoping’ the book gets better. Remember that growing stack of books I mentioned? Well, they’re not going to read themselves. And if somebody is going to read them, I would prefer that somebody be me. I was the one, after all, who shelled out the cash for them in the first place. Otherwise, think of all the great steak I could’ve bought instead.

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