After my word cloud yesterday, I saw this twitter thread and I pondered on a personalised rejection I received last week and I wondered if I was missing something in my first chapter.
I must be, though I cannot think what that is.
The rejection said that my first chapter didn't have a hook.
Really? Howzat? The first chapter's all about the triggers and the inciting incident. The first trigger happens on the first page. My MC realises something, wonders if this new realisation will solve a problem she has, and it does. Just as she applies that solution, she's thrust into another, more dire situation, where this same solution solves this second problem. However, this solution has consequenses, which come visit her at the end of Chapter One, thus sending her life into snafu-land.
Then I wondered if the clues I'd dropped in weren't obvious enough, that my first chapter might have been too 'quiet', as they say.
A quiet book is not the same as a dull book. Everything you want is there, but it's subtle. Sometimes you've got to work for it, or maybe you'll be five chapters down the track before the penny drops, but the penny always drops.
You know how in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince he comes across a cabinet of stuff, and one of the items is a locket? Of course not. Nobody really noticed the locket, as it was shown as setting. But then in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you learn it's a frickin' horcrux! The introduction of the locket is quiet, but it becomes a significant McGuffin later on.
Readers like to be trusted, even if they might gloss over a clue, only to realise it later. To beat them over the head with every plot point is like telling them they're too stupid to figure the plot out. They don't like that. They like to feel clever, and trusted, and to lose themselves in the world.
Our Heroine has always seen how everything in the world is connected together. Think of it as everything between string theory and galaxy filaments. She's seen them her whole life, and never thought that others might not see them. But her "ah-ha" moment is when she realises that not only can she see them, but she can touch them as well, move them, pull on them, and affect the universe like that. Cool trick.
Not less than five minutes later, she needs to help rescue someone from drowning. She realises this nifty new trick can save a life, and she does so without hesitation. However, such powers come with a price. Her actions attract the attention of a dark god, one who's been looking for her her whole life. Now that she's pretty much announced her presence, he's able to locate her. Inciting incident. Everything from here on out is fubar country.
Her "ah-ha" moment is subtle, though, and readers might not understand its significance until later on in the chapter. Is that what's working against my favour?
Does a hook have to have a barb?
So I'm wondering: what's not grabbing people with my first chapter... forget that, what's wrong with my first page? I honestly cannot improve on where I've started the plot. It is the best place to start it. But if I can't hook a reader with the first "ah ha" moment, what am I doing wrong?
Her Grace is baffled.