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.

and-then-there-were-none

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.

gone-girl-book-cover

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

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Writing Role Models – Studying Specific Passages

To improve your writing, read more. That’s the advice I hear. But I think the advice should be a bit more specific, like this:

Read more passages that accomplish exactly what you are trying to accomplish in the passage you’re working on.

It’s not pithy, but I think it’s more accurate. Maybe a cleaner version is:

Read for the sake of modeling.

When I read, I read to learn. Or escape. But when I read for the sake of bettering my writing, reading becomes a form of study. And if I’m studying, I need to choose my textbooks carefully.

I am going to catalog the passages I study from. When I stumble on excellent passages that accomplish specific things that I have struggled with, I will add them here under Writing Role Models. If you can add recommendations, please do!