First Chapters: A Contract with the Reader

As a writer, I’ve long been aware of the importance of the first page and chapter of a book.  In fact, I discussed the approach one editor takes to first pages  in the entry called Chapter One: More or Less Done.  But I think that it’s only been the last few years that I’ve though of the first chapter as a contract with the reader with respect to tone, style and content. 

I ran across the idea for the first time in a book on writing by Richard Peck, but I’m sure that it’s been around for a very long time.  Orson Scott Card has an entire section on this in his book, CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT.   In a recent talk at an SCBWI retreat Harold Underdown talked about what a first page needed.  Here is something that’s fairly close to a quote: “What does a first page need? The author makes a promise to the reader.  There are many kinds of promises and many ways to make these promises.”As I get to work on revising my YA mystery, I’ll be reviewing the promises that I made in the first chapter. 

So far I’d like to think that I’ve promised the reader a YA mystery with a touch of humor and romance.

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