USE CAREFULLY CHOSEN DETAIL TO CREATE IMMEDIACY.
Your Chapter One must move along smartly, but in being economical you cannot become vague. Difficult, you say? It’s all in the context.
The genius of books as diverse as Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Robin Cook’s Coma lies in the authors’ generosity with good, authentic detail. Cervantes knew that a suit of armor kept in a junk locker for years wouldn’t merely be dusty, it would be corroded to hell—and that would be a problem to overcome. Likewise, Cook, himself a doctor, knew that a patient prepped for surgery would typically be given a calming drug before the main anesthetic—and that some patients, somehow, do not find peace even under the medication, especially if they have reason not to.
If you’re an expert on something, go ahead and show that you know what you’re talking about. One of the reasons my novel Damn Straight, a story involving a professional golfer, won a Lambda Award is that I know golf, and let my years of (painful) experience inform the book. I felt I’d done a good job when reviewer after reviewer wrote, “I absolutely hate golf, but I love how Sims writes about it in this novel. …”
Let’s say your Chapter One begins with your main character getting a root canal. You could show the dentist nattering on and on as dentists tend to do, and that would be realistic, but it could kill your chapter, as in this example:
Dr. Payne’s running commentary included the history of fillings, a story about the first time he ever pulled a tooth, and a funny anecdote about how his college roommate got really drunk every weekend.
Bored yet? Me too. Does that mean there’s too much detail? No. It means there’s too much extraneous detail.
How about this:
Dr. Payne paused in his running commentary on dental history and put down his drill. “Did you know,” he remarked, “that the value of all the gold molars in a city this size, at this afternoon’s spot price of gold, would be something on the order of half a million dollars?” He picked up his drill again. “Open.”
If the detail serves the story, you can hardly have too much.
8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One