View Full Version : Back of the Book and Chapter 1

Clair Dickson
10-13-2008, 06:08 PM
I'm going to hazzard a guess that most people do not just open a random book to page one and start reading. If nothing else, we all read the back of the book to find out what might be in there, and to decide if that particular book is going to be a flavor we like.

So something that confuses me is that some of the critiques I get for my first chapters is that I haven't introduced my character at all. This may well be a valid complaint. I admit that I am rather sparse in the introduction.

My question is-- should I or should I not count on the back of book providing a partial introduction to the character and some initial conflict?

I looked at a bunch of the books I've read lately and most of them seem fall into two camps. Camp 1 has all the books that barely introduce the character, hop right into story and often (since they are all written in first person POV, same as my novel) don't even give the narrator's name until later. Often two or three chapters in. These books often don't describe the narrator's appearance, sometimes not even minimally.
Camp 2 has an info dump where the first chapter is full of all the details about the character, then slowly winds into the mystery come chapter two or three with the first part of the book.

Part of my problem is that I'm writing first person and half the things that I think about the character "thinking" that would explain her to the reader gets stuck in my muse's hands because people don't think like that when they meet someone new. (I certainly don't think about my hair color or jean size when I notice someone looking at me, for example... but man, how often do I read that sort of thing in a book!)

Just for the record, I'm exceptionally gratefull for everyone who's willing to beta my stuff.:heart: I'm just trying to understand something here.

Should (can) I count on the reader having at least a basic knowledge of my character and the intial conflict? Or not?

10-13-2008, 06:20 PM
I get a lot of my books from a university library. Even the new hardback bestsellers go on the shelves sans dust jacket. The paperbacks are rebound in archive bindings. In short: there is NO back of the cover. I pick books based on the title and the first few pages. This has bled over into my bookstore habits. I rarely even look at the back cover now.

Besides, do you really want to rely on some marketing lackey's lurid back cover prose to introduce your character? Nothing against marketing lackeys--I have been one--but if you went to all the trouble to write a whole book, why let something that important fall to someone else?

I am also working on a first person novel and I just had to find some other ways to show the reader my narrator.

Linda Adams
10-13-2008, 07:39 PM
I wouldn't even assume that the reader has read the back of the book. Suppose he reads it in the bookstore, buys the book--one of six--and gets to it in a couple of months. Maybe he looks at the back of the book again, and maybe he doesn't.

Jenan Mac
10-13-2008, 08:01 PM
Don't count on the back of the book. Some don't even synopsize (is that a word?) the book at all. <coughNoraRobertscough>

10-13-2008, 08:19 PM
Also, when you're just sending your ms out to agents/editors, there IS no back of the book copy, aside from what you provide in your query letter (and synopsis, if requested, but a lot of agents/editors don't read these until after they've read the sample pages). You have to rely on your first chapter(s) to set the scene and introduce the reader to your MC -- you can't assume they'll read anything else.

-- Marcy

10-13-2008, 08:23 PM
When I'm in the bookstore I look first for a standalone book. I look at the first page. If it hooks me I pay for the book. If it doesn't and/or strikes me as generic processed fantasy it goes back on the shelf.

Clair Dickson
10-13-2008, 11:47 PM
Ah. Okay.

I couldn't just start reading the first page. The vast, vast majority of first pages would just turn me off. If I know there's supposed to be a good story in there, I'll put up with a little longer to get going. I don't think I would have bought my favorite books if I'd only read the first page, and not used the back of the book to help decide.

... but it's not about me and my preferences. It's about what doing what I'm supposed to do.

Back to work on the first chapters. No info dump but start the story and show the 'voice' and set the setting and introduce the conflict. In the first couple pages, max. =/

Mr Flibble
10-14-2008, 12:04 AM
For me, the blurb gives me only an indication of plot and maybe style. Not a description of the character or as a substitute for an engaging first page. And for me at least, what makes it engaging is the character and how well I can 'see' / know him in that short space of time. If I can't get a sense of the protag there, I lose interest.

And blurbs are so short, you can't get much more in than 'X, Butt Waxer to the rich and famous is having a bad day' or whathaveyou. Very basic stuff.

10-14-2008, 07:48 AM
I generally check the back blurb first and if the storyline looks interesting I open the book and read the first few pages. It doesn't much matter to me if the main character isn't introduced right away. I'm looking for an interesting voice, good writing and the promise of conflict.

10-14-2008, 11:37 AM
I think character intro is very important. We want to know who the story is about, who we're following around etc..... I find it far more exciting when I know who the MC is.

Edit: Whoops, I missed that you're writing in 1st person: In that case it seems fine- as long as info dumps are avoided.

As everyone else has said, the beginning needs to be gripping.
(Most famous books don't open with 'gripping' beginnings, I'd say. :Shrug:)

10-14-2008, 02:34 PM
I'm going to hazzard a guess that most people do not just open a random book to page one and start reading.

I do look at page one before buying a book. More importantly, an agent or publisher will look at the first para to see if it grabs their attention.

I'm not sure what is meant by introducing your character because, as it's in first person, it's his/her voice you hear instantly. I certainly don't need to have a description of the character, but I do need to have that narrative voice telling me something that makes me want to read on. Thereafter, it is through what that character is saying that you get to know the MC. So, as the narrator, he/she has to be giving an indication of what the story is about while revealing what sort of person he/she is.

The most important words in any book or short story are in that first sentence and/or paragraph. If that doesn't grab attention, the person looking at your submission will put it aside. If they don't put it aside, they will want the first page to keep their attention enough to want to even turn to page two.

I hope that makes sense?

10-14-2008, 02:51 PM
Actually, the backs of the books all read very similarly to me - so I usually read something on page one and then something a wad of pages in and judge based on that.

10-14-2008, 10:28 PM
I guess I'm not a typical reader in that I very rarely, almost never, pick up a book in a shop without previously knowing something about it - an author I've previously read or had recommended to me, or something that's had good reviews (hopefully from reviewers whose opinion I've got to know and trust) or word of mouth.

A couple of times recently I've done what I'm supposed to do and glanced at the opening page - and in both cases found it so badly written it threw me straight out the book. One of these was a fantasy novel which has won awards, sold film rights etc and quite a few people think it's wonderful. Maybe it's just me. :)