As a reviewer, I get a lot of pitches to review books, and sure there are queries and other promising gestures, but I really judge based on one thing: the first chapter (or prologue). Whether I pick up a book handed to me or one off a shelf on Amazon, it’s still the deciding factor. I’m looking at it as a reader this time, not an author.
You’ll hear agents say they want two key things in the first paragraph or pitch of your query: what the character wants and the conflict. And that’s exactly what I look for to determine if the plot is something I’d want to read. Mind you, it does have to be contained in the first chapter. Pretty much in this order:
1) What does the character want? It could be a person, a job, or a special goal.
2) What’s stopping them from obtaining this goal? It could be parents, a friend, a lover, teachers, or the government. It could also be their economic, racial, or other circumstances.
3) Who is the character? This includes their personality and their occupation or student status.
4) Where are they? Describe their location and setting.
That’s pretty much the order of concern to me. And, usually, if the first two are covered, I care about 3 and 4 much less. Why? Desire and conflict drive the story. Characters are great, and awesome characters are even better, but even if you have a super intriguing protagonist, the story might go nowhere unless they have a goal or desire and something is stopping them from obtaining it.
What I severely dislike and have seen a few times is the following in the opening: The character is about to deal with x, y, and z and face terrible fiends and horrific dangers! Yeah, that’s nice. But I don’t care how terrible or horrifying the dangers. I want to know what they want and why those dangers even matter. Flash forwards are great, but they’re not always utilized correctly. If you’re just showing me a glimpse of the horrible future to which the character is headed, again, yawn.
That’s why the coupling of desire and conflict is so important. They form a dynamic together that makes the reader interested to see how the character will overcome the odds to make their desire come true (or maybe even fail at it). It also tells the reader that they’re going to read about a very driven character, which means the story is bound to be exciting!
So whether you’re a reader or a writer, and you want to know if a story will be worth reading, try looking for those ingredients in the opening of any book you like or might consider reading or writing.
What do you look for in a story’s opening?
-The Story Addict