Second chapter of A Perfect Blood

The second chapter of A Perfect Blood popped up on Harper Voyager’s blog yesterday!  Yay!  If you’ve not seen it, and are in the mood for a little more teasing, go check it out!  It is in a much more accessible format if you were having trouble with the first.  Click for chapter two

Last night I spent some time working on shifting the website over to A Perfect Blood’s colors, and I’m still not quite happy with it.  I wanted to pull on the red from the cover for the link colors, but it was too garish, so I aimed for Rachel’s hair.  Something still isn’t quite right, but it’s getting there.  I like the monochrome look I’ve got going, but it’s missing something.  Shadows, maybe. . .

Anyway, chapter three is open on my desk this morning, and I might be able to even get four at least started before I push back.  I played with chapter one again yesterday, cementing things since it was THE FIRST CHAPTER, and I’ve decided I like it.  I like it a lot.  Especially the first line, which has three clues as to what the story is going to be about, all of them not easily seen unless you are looking for it.  (I love words . . .)

First chapters are tricky beasts.  They have definite needs, especially in genre fiction where there are expectations and conventions, something you need to pay attention to if you are making up magic, rules, and worlds.  Expectations help the reader can find their feet faster and their reading experience more enjoyable and allow the uniqueness of your story to stand out.  I have a few things I like to work in to help make my first chapter more successful.  (This is for genre fiction.)

I once heard it said that most bestselling books start with dialog within the first three paragraphs.  I don’t know if it’s true, but I try to follow that rule, even if it’s just the main character talking to themselves.

Use action to introduce the main characters, not reflection.  My personal rule is to not introduce more than two people in any given chapter.  First chapters are best lean on the characters.  Show only what will carry through to the end, whether it be a person, emotion, or idea.  I have someone dying in the first chapter, so clearly he isn’t going to carry through to the end, but the emotions that stem from it do.

First chapters need to touch on the issue that the main character is going to be dealing with.  For example, if someone close to the main character is going to die and the book is about her dealing with it, she needs to see someone die, or a funeral, or a car accident, or an obituary, or a dead flower.  Something!  There needs to be a hint so the reader is primed for it and the clues you will be dropping.  You don’t necessarily have to be blatantly obvious about it, especially if discovery is involved, but it should be there.  Readers are savvy.  They will be looking for this whether they know it or not.  Give it to them, and they will follow you to the next page.

The inner strength that will get your main character to the end needs to be shown.  The personal drawback that will hinder them needs to be there, too. Not the bad guy, the personal quirk that keeps the main character stumbling, but if you can get the bad guy in there too, all the better.  Just don’t add the entire cast at once.  One line goes a long way in a first chapter.  This is part of character development, and your reader must be able to identify with your character immediately, or the page won’t be turned.

The magic needs to be shown, or at least mentioned with some emotion attached so the reader knows how to feel about it.  We must know from the first chapter if the magic is open and talked about, or hidden and creating a danger just by being able to do it.

These are the biggies, and if you ask a different writer, you’ll probably get a different answer, and that’s the beauty of it.  To get all the above in less than 20 pages is a tall order, but this is what a publisher or agent is looking for when they ask for your first three chapters.  Most editors and agents will know from three pages if they want your work.  Much of what they are looking for is “voice”, but I’ve always felt this is what they are unconsciously looking for as well.  Can you immerse the reader immediately?  Can you tell us what the story is going to be about without smacking us in the face with it?  Can you make us identify with the character and care?  Can you mash all that in and still make us want to find out more?

It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  And rewrites.  Lots of rewrites.  I seldom wind up using my original first chapter, so don’t beat yourself up trying to make it perfect on the first run through.  Take your time.  It’s often not until the end that we know how to start.

51 Comments

Filed under Drama Box

51 responses to “Second chapter of A Perfect Blood

  1. Just read chapter two. Are you gonna set up a spoilers page? I feel myself brimming with questions. :) Anything I may say might be one. Just one question though. Is the car a red one?

  2. AKR (Trinidad)

    …Gosh … i love this …. Chapter 2 .. YAyyy ..
    Thank you so much Ms Harrison …. for sharing all this insight …
    Not to mention thse tantalizing teases of A Perfect Blood .. <3 <3 <3

    I am SO.. looking forward to it …. :-)

    PS happy New Year all :-)

    AKR (Trinidad)

  3. Great advice! Wondering if you’d make any changes (additions?) to advice for the first chapter in a second (third, fourth) book in a series? Thanks!

    • Thank you, GK. That is what works for me and is part of my “voice.” What works for you might be different, and a lot changes when you write a different genre. First chapters (for me) are first chapters, whether it be the first book in the series, or the tenth. They all need to do the same thing in terms of setting up the rest of the book. Touching on the magic can be more subtle, though.

  4. Thank you for the great tips! I’m going to save them and bring them out during edit time.

  5. jkh

    I can see it now: If I ever join a writers’ group I will have printed out all your advice on writing, I’ll have it in a binder, and I’ll be the one who pops up with “But Kim Harrison says…”

  6. James R. Fox

    Hi Ms.Kim-its Jim from Warren.I love your writing advice,it tells me what to fix so mine doesn’t suck so bad. Now if I could just find a writer’s group…. My foster daughter’s husband fixed my comp, so I can bug you guys everyday(They are doing great, except she has hubby on another diet,he has type 1 diabetes,like many native americans)My foster daughter runs her own physical Therapy clinic, and in Ohio you have to take regular pre-med to get the liscense,including 1 yr of dissection,she named her corpse Doris, She has a wierd sense of humor sometimes,and claims its my fault.Almost forgot Gina Carrano MMA fighter has a movie out,”Hardwired”,perfect Ivy!

  7. Love the series. Can’t wait for the book to hit the shelves.

  8. I love getting to read the first two chapters before the release date, but it just makes me all the more ravenous for the rest of the book. Thanks for the tease. And thanks for some insight into first chapters. You’ve given me a few ideas for revisions on my current wip. Awesome advice. You give great blog. :)

    • Thank you, Chelle. You do know chapter three will be released next Tuesday, right? ;-)

      I’m so pleased that you found something to take with you from my ramblings. Thanks! And good luck with your work!

  9. Mirja

    I can’t wait for the book to come out! :) I really hope Rachel and Trent get together, finally. ;) And reading the two first chapters gave me a nice taste of things to come!

  10. Chicago is headed to Grands Rapids, MI again… Since I brought you a snowglobe last I went (during your Black Magic Sanction tour) I’ll bring you our best of the best… hmmmm…. we have so many… *grin* now I know! See you in March!! d(^_^)b

  11. Emily

    I just finished reading the first two chapters and WOW…I want more!!! They were really good! Any idea when chapter three will be posted? Thanks for posting the first few chapters early…I’m a bit of a spoiler-junkie!

  12. Thank you for this great post! It can be so hard to know what to reveal in the first chapters without dumping too much in, and the clues for what is to come are so important as well. I like your rule about two characters per chapter. I struggle with that and often have piles of new faces confusing the heck out of readers! ;)

    • If I had to distill first chapters down to one sentence, it would be a little taste of everything the book is about–but just a taste.

      I’ve been known to break chapters to help split up character introductions.

  13. Diva

    reading about the writing process is always fascinating to me…and only highlights why I would totally suck at it. lol

  14. Howdy ma’am,

    I like the cover. It’s nice to see Rachel from the front. I know your release day is already set but I think it would have been cool if they had released on the 29th.

    In retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t. Who wants to wait any longer than they have to for the next book.

    V^^^^V

    • I agree, Vampy. It took a long time, but we finally see Rachel. It would not surprise me if it goes back to being misty, though.

      Book releases are generally on Tuesdays so they have the longest time to garner sales before the list totals are taken.

  15. You give great advice Kim!
    I have a passion to read, read, read.. but if you can’t keep me in the “I need to know what happens next”.. I lose interest.
    It’s all about baiting me :)
    I’m liking the new look on your page. And I love that you are giving us fans a tease and taste to whats to come. But I just can’t bring myself to reading it until I have the book in hand.
    Luckily, that is just around the corner. Time flys eh.

    • Thank you, Lynn. I hope you find something there to take away with you. Even if you don’t write, it’s kind of neat to see the method behind it.

      You are not alone in shunning the sneak peeks. ;-)

  16. Wow -Chapter 2 !!!!!what a wonderful surprise for my coffee/reading time this morning-loving the book- of course there was no doubt-

    thank you also for the article, very interesting, although I am now feeling compelled to go back and read the first few chapters of all your books -lol

    Thanks again for sharing

  17. Thank you so much for this post–it’s exactly what I needed to read today! (Actually, this is the 3rd or 4th time your blog has covered the exact writing topic I needed to read at the exact moment I needed to read it, which is really cool but also kinda spooky now that I think about it.)

    Yesterday I sat down and read what I wrote back in November, and decided that today I would start revising chapter one. I’m just glad I took a break before starting and logged on here so I read this first. Of course, this did reward me for procrastinating . . .

    But I’m ready to get started now. The detailed examples and explanations are really helpful in understanding the “why,” which I find more helpful than just being given the “what.”

    • Very cool, SiSi! Just don’t beat yourself up over trying to conform to what I dumped on you yesterday.

      All things take time, and there is no such thing as perfect. ;-)

  18. Just finished chapter two. I’m already hooked. Cannot wait for Feb. 21st to come. Oh and the fist glimpse of Trent had me (figuratively)jumping up and down. Love that elf.

  19. David Knisely

    I enjoy the posts where you reveal what goes on in your head and how that is translated to what appears in written form. For many years I attempted to get middle-schoolers to put ideas on paper. One success – in a nutshell. Write the first paragraph of an experience; cross out the first sentence; often the second sentence gets into the action and is more enticing than the crossed out sentence. Example: “My dog, Petra, was on a leash as I opened the front gate. Petra leaped forward, ripping the leash from my hold and dashed into the street.” The second second grabs your attention and would make a good beginning sentence.Thanks. best-selling author, for posting my success.
    David from Crystal River

    • Hi David. ;-) You have it exactly right. I’ve been known to tell people to throw out the first three chapters because it doesn’t start until chapter four. Same thing.

      Take care!

  20. I like the new look. The trees on the cover fit very well with the tree in your author picture. One more month! yay!
    Oh and remember the friend I finally got hooked? She now finished the 2nd, will buy the 3rd and all others by herself and bought the first for another friend :) Spread the love campaign runs again! ;)

  21. Ronald Mulligan

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post on the first chapter. thank you for your input I know that I really do appreciate it as an aspiring writer (who need quite space desperately). I try and get different approaches from different writers. You are correct in saying that we all have differing opinions. Thanks you again and love your work.

  22. You’re teasing us! (and I love it), can’t believe we’re on 2012 and that it’s only a bit over a month for the release of A Perfect Blood!
    I wish I could write, at some point in my life I gave it a try but the truth if I didn’t have the persistance to sit and write everyday, and after work I guess I was just too tired. Or I just didn’t have enough motivation. Whatever it is, I might be willing to give it a try soon.
    Your post makes a lot of sence. You point out things I never stop to think of, or consider. And for that I Thank you.
    In any case I love the end result, whatever technique you developed that works for you is good.
    Can’t wait to hear more about your next work! like Julie Andrews sang… you must have done something good xD

  23. Hello Ms. Harrison,

    This is execellent, I’m taking notes!!
    I have recovered from NaNoWriMo and is ready to take on the world again.
    Naturally, I’m still reading the blog, lol. I’m just not always commenting. ;) My words are few these days.
    Looking forward to the new book. It feels like only yesterday that pale demon was released.

    Alyss

    • Hi Alyssa! Cool. I hope you find something you can take away with you. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about first chapters before.

      Continued success with your work!

  24. Dawn

    Thanks for the advise Kim!!

  25. Fantastic post! I’m not a writer, but this actually gets down the science of how the reading experience should be for me. I just pick up a book to read and if I get disinterested I don’t always know why, but this may be good insight into the “why”.