The first chapter of your novel – or your prologue if you prefer – must contain a compelling opening hook, giving the reader a taste of what’s to come and persuading them that the rest of your story isn’t to be missed. Get it right and your reader will commit to your story; get it wrong and they might put the book down before they even get to chapter two….

The way to make your opening hook immediately compelling is the same way you make any other piece of writing compelling – you make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next.

This means the events of your opening chapter need to be sufficiently dynamic or intriguing. For example, a murder mystery might open with the murder scene itself, shown from the victim’s point-of-view. As the (unknown) killer hunts, traps, and finally kills the victim, the reader will be gripped from start to finish, initially wanting to find out how the murder unfolds, then wanting to know who killed the victim and why, which leads them into the next chapter and the wider story.

A romance novel might open with a visit from the protagonist’s betrothed, who quickly announces that their engagement is at an end. The reader will immediately want to know why and see how the protagonist reacts. As the protagonist is left reeling, the chapter might end with them asking themselves how they will recover from the shame and whether they will ever be happy, which piques the reader’s interest for the subsequent chapters.

Whatever your genre, the key is to leave your reader with unanswered questions and make them wonder what’s coming next.

Andrew Noakes
How to hook your reader in chapter one

…If he concentrates on shaving, maybe he can stave off the memory of what they found at the end of that hallway and, a little later, huddled on the roof. The sight of those bodies, and the smell.

It’s actually a number of species of fungus existing together in a symbiotic mass, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, often referred to by a more colourful and more pronounceable moniker, zombie fungus. It attacks a particular family of tropical ants, known as camponitids, or carpenter ants, entering the hosts’ bodies during the yeast stage of its complex reproductive cycle. The fungus spreads through an ant’s body, maturing inside its head—and this is where things really get interesting. It eventually takes control of the infected insect, forcing it to latch on to the underside of a leaf and bite down in what we call the grip of death. Then atrophy sets in, quickly, completely destroying the sarcomere connections in the ant’s muscle fibers and reducing its sarcoplasmic reticula and mitochondria. At this point, the ant is no longer able to control the muscles of the mandible and will remain fixed in place. The fungus finally kills the ant and continues to grow as hyphae penetrate the soft tissues and begin to structurally fortify the ant’s exoskeleton. Mycelia sprout and securely anchor it to the leaf, at the same time secreting antimicrobial compounds that ward off competition from other Ophiocordyceps colonies.

….And get this, okay? These doomed ants, these poor dying bastards, they always climb to a height of precisely twenty-five point twenty plus or minus two point forty-six centimeters above the jungle floor, in environments where the humidity will remain stable between ninety-four and ninety-five percent, with temperatures between twenty and thirty Celsius. And always on the north side of the plant. In the end, sporocarps, the fungal fruiting bodies, erupt from the ant’s necking, growing a stalk that releases spores that’ll infect more ants. It’s evolution at its best and, yeah, at its most grisly, too. Mother Nature, when you get right down to it, she’s a proper cunt.

But these weren’t ants. These were human beings.

Well, sure, and this isn’t Ophiocordyceps, either. We’re not even sure if it’s an actual fungus. No one’s ever seen anything like it. Jesus, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it came from outer space….

Caitlín R. Kiernan
Agents of Dreamland

Made it up

March 20, 2020

“You mean old books?”

“Stories written before space travel but about space travel.”

“How could there have been stories about space travel before –“

“The writers,” Pris said, “made it up.”

Philip K. Dick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?