Writing Role Models: Lots of Characters and Backstory in Chapter 1

In the first ten pages of a novel, characters need to become whole, rich people that we care about. We need hooks to keep us reading, questions that need answers, and enough plot to let us know we’re in for a good ride. It’s tough to fit it all in, and seeing it done well helps me identify what to include, and more importantly, what to cut.

I just started reading Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Chapter 1 introduces numerous characters, with just enough backstory and questions that I’m hooked. An excellent example of introducing lots of people quickly without info-dumping.


Another first chapter that I’ve read many times is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. This book earns accolades for plot, for character, for twist, but what I love most about it is Chapter 1. Flynn delivers an immense amount of backstory without making it feel like an info dump. I’m amazed at how much story she stuffed into just a handful of pages.


Tell me your favorite first chapters. What do you love about them?


Am Reading: Neuromancer

I had to take a break from Atlas Shrugged. The story is fantastic, but the constant waves of despair were taking a toll.

I tried On the Road for a bit. Kerouac left me speaking in a smooth jazz-cat rhythm for a few days, but the words alone were not enough to hold me captive. I want the rich, complex story that I can dissolve into.

I re-read an old favorite: Island of the Blue Dolphins.

And now, another classic that I missed along the way: Neuromancer. The cyberpunk original created a vocabulary that helped us see the world in a new way: cyberspace, the Matrix…

I’m taking notes on the complex future world-building. Gibson pulled this off beautifully. I’m filing this one as “inspiration of effective techno world building for my novel.”

Am Reading: Getting to Know John Galt

I’m still catching up on some classics that I missed along the way. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, I should have read Atlas Shrugged ages ago. It’s awesome. The characters have such depth, and the plot holds the right amount of mystery versus disclosure. I’m loving it. But no spoilers, please. I’m smack in the middle of it right now.

I don’t need to reach the end to know this book belongs on my Books I Love list. Adding it now.