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Kay Iscah

Obviously this is more relevant to multi-chapter stories, but I realized I give and get a lot of reviews for Chapter 1. This in and of itself is not that strange. We all like to sample different stories, increase our own review numbers, and not every story can fit everyone's tastes. But I thought it might be helpful to talk about what we look for in Chapter 1 that makes us want to continue on to Chapter 2 in someone else's story.

What motivates you to click that Next button? What stops you?

1/15/2013 #1

What motivates me is usually style of writing, how much mystery there is, if the writer keeps me guessing I myself am more compelled to keep clicking that next button. What usually stops me is if an overload of information is given in the first chapter, i like mystery and suspense above all so if an info overload is in front of me i am more tempted to click the story away.

1/16/2013 #2
Tsumujikaze no Soujutsu

A lot actually depends on how I see the characters more than anything else. I don't truly mind a slow burning plot because I've been through that one series of work called The Wheel of Time where the initial chapters are indeed dry and boring, after which everything will start to get really interesting *cough*Rand al'Thor and Lews Therin Telamon*cough*. Well sort of been through anyway, since I actually stopped quite early into the book due to attention span and a lack of financial muscle.

Digression aside, a great plot to me has to be defined by a great character cast. Because while technical ability truly counts, no one will take your work seriously if they cannot feel strongly for the characters. I don't really mind reviewers slagging any of my characters based on personal preferences because it would mean that whatever I've written has created a relevant nature/extent of audience-character bias.

Call me weird, but it's actually a good thing to see your readers reacting to any of your characters like how a human being will end up doing so to a fellow human being, be it for the better or for worse. ;)

1/16/2013 #3
J.K. Weaver

For some reason I like a nice short intro that pulls me into the world or work. After that, what will keep me reading is a good relatable character (for some reason I prefer female leads... I don't know why). In my stories I try to make characters that you can either easily relate to our empathize with.

Originally is always a bonus too. If I feel I've read this before, then I'm moving on. If you fabricated a magical world and I can tell you took an immense amount of time into the creation of that world, I will appreciate that. (this applies more to Fantasy writing however)

Also, depending on the story type, a small joke to make me smile is always appreciated. Even Stephen King will throw the occasional joke into his terrifying tales.

1/16/2013 #4

Sometimes, it's length that gets me into a story. If a story is long, and the writer shows competence early on in the story, that's usually a sign I'm reading a work by a dedicated, seasoned writer. Other times, it's theme that gets me into a story. I have my preferences on what I want to read about, and I tend to gravitate towards certain genres, mostly the genres I write in (Young Adult and Fantasy). Mostly though, I stick with a story if I can tell the writer has a grasp on the fundamentals and knows how to separate character voices and mannerisms. This is an issue with a lot of Teen fiction, when the jocks sound just like the geeks, who sound just like the home-ec students, who sound just like the teachers, etc..

1/17/2013 #5
Kay Iscah

I look for two main things, quality and inventiveness. I may stick with a story where the writing level is mediocre if the plot/concept is inventive enough, and vice versa, I have no trouble with a slow build in the mundane if the writing is high quality. Best stories have both. I'm partial to stories that are fun or have an element of fun, but I'll read a darker one if the craft is high enough.

My biggest turn off is sloppiness, be it grammar, character development, story logic, etc. I can take a few typos, but when it looks like the author didn't even bother with spellcheck it bugs me. Second on the list is fatalism for the sake of fatalism or realism for the sake of realism. If I want to read about something completely realistic, I'll read nonfiction. I think fiction needs to transcend reality on some level, even if the story is "realistic" in setting or nature, it needs to make some commentary on reality beyond "life is not fair" or "bad things happen to people".

Outside of the story itself, particularly on review exchanges, I'm far more likely to review chapter 2 if I get a positive reaction to my first review. My reviews tend to be time consuming due to the level of detail I lean towards, so if someone replies with "Thank you so much! This is helpful! I'll make use of these suggestions!" then I'm far more likely to read the next chapter (or story).

There are a few stories where I liked something about it enough to come back and read more, but the bad grammar or some other issue was so rampant, I decided to try them again in a few months rather than right away, so the author will have time to address those issues.

1/17/2013 #6

Your comments about realism remind me of some of the things I heard about The Amber Spyglass by Bull Pullman. Something about how the main couple is separated to live miserable lives for no other reason but to tack on a somber, bittersweet ending that was no more logical than a happy ending. And then, there's those stories where authors want to have realism, so they throw in gratuitous cursing, unlikeable characters, and pointless grime, to the point where there's no one to root for and no point to the story. You can have sad endings and unlikeable characters, but they should be organic to the story, not just an expression of "look how edgy and mature I am!"

1/18/2013 . Edited 1/18/2013 #7
Kay Iscah

Exactly. I thought 1984 and The Fountain Head were awesome despite the sad endings (though the ending is probably the least realistic thing about The Fountain Head and the main protagonist is a J***), because they brought up very valid points and commentary. Hans Christian Anderson is packed with sad endings, but they usually have a moral or a special beauty to the bittersweetness.

I will say I use this trend of random realism to my advantage to with my readers in a particular story. I set things up to look like a realistic ending is looming then toss in a reversal on the last page which makes it a happy one. Readers who are paying attention will have figured out the possibility long before, (so not a rabbit out of the hat solution, there's logic and set up for it) but I had my beta reader going until ten pages to the end (I had the special delight of watching while he read). And there's always the worry that the characters won't figure out what the reader has figured out.

1/18/2013 #8
Roka Polaris

Usually it's the characters, that make me read on. If I care for them and they are interesting then I usually read on, because I want to know more about them. I don't want to identify with them, but they have to be intriguing in one or another way. When this goes along with an equally interesting plot and a good feel of the setting that would be ideal of course. It also happened the other way of course: that the plot was so exiting, suspenseful, interesting or whatever that I simply had to go on to know what happens next. Though usually I am looking for good characters.

The more I care for the,, the more likely it is that also the plot will interest me (and that I will even be likely to 'buy' the one or the other incosistency of a plot (though I really appreciate well constructed and original plots as well)

I admit that in my current story (Lysette's visions) I used the good old cliffhanger in the end of chapter one, but it was more of a coincidence, and I did not really plan to use it for it's own sake. It met well with the need of the story at that point.

1/21/2013 #9
Loraine Wentworth

As has been mentioned above, the quality of writing is important for me. If it's mostly correct (aside from typos) and well balanced and a little unique/different it will catch my attention. I'm prepared to give things like characters and plot a few more chapters to show their depths, although if those things turn out to be done badly I'll usually lose interest after reading a few chapters.

1/22/2013 #10
Exactly. I thought 1984 and The Fountain Head were awesome despite the sad endings (though the ending is probably the least realistic thing about The Fountain Head and the main protagonist is a J***), because they brought up very valid points and commentary. Hans Christian Anderson is packed with sad endings, but they usually have a moral or a special beauty to the bittersweetness.

I will say I use this trend of random realism to my advantage to with my readers in a particular story. I set things up to look like a realistic ending is looming then toss in a reversal on the last page which makes it a happy one. Readers who are paying attention will have figured out the possibility long before, (so not a rabbit out of the hat solution, there's logic and set up for it) but I had my beta reader going until ten pages to the end (I had the special delight of watching while he read). And there's always the worry that the characters won't figure out what the reader has figured out.

It's good sometimes to play with your readers expectations, if it's clever and makes sense. It's especially usual if your twist ending offers more interesting ideas that whatever the alternative is.

I think one of the problems with "happy endings" is when the ending feels "unearned", wherein the heroes are saved by luck and convenience, no one learns anything, and no one has to struggle or sacrifice to make things right. There's not much suspense or satisfaction when the heroes have a safety net under them.

I'm a fanfic writer. One of the things I do is take an old story and write a new ending for it, sometimes a happier ending than what happened in the original. But in order for the fanfic to be more than wish fulfillment, the new ending has to be as logical and interesting as the original story. The same concept can work for original stories, where you give the characters a fighting chance, but not a free ride.

2/1/2013 #11
Kay Iscah

I think protagonists need to earn their hero status, luck and convenience does not a hero make...

But yes, a happy ending can be as empty as a sad one if nothing is earned or learned in the process.

2/1/2013 #12

In the first chapter of a story, I want to pulled into the story and engaged some way. I look for things that make me want to read on and discover more, like for example in a fantasy story, I want to be immersed in the world and to fall in love with it so much I want to explore more. My friend wrote a very good story about an MMORPG game made through virtual reality and the world he created was very compelling because it was something new and fresh. The writing style needs to be good as well. I can't stand blocky writing styles, it needs to flow with some form of rythm. Other than that I am not sure.

2/15/2013 #13

Primarily, how well is it written, how colorful is the narrative, how believable is the dialogue, and how interesting is the subject matter. I know that might sound a little dry, but I can't tell you how many very well written pieces that I've none the less stepped away from because they just weren't my cup of tea. It's not a dig at the authors by any stretch.

Oh yeah, and if at any point it made me laugh, I'll usually keep reading :)

3/6/2013 #14

Two things-

1. Interesting characters.

2. Easy to digest narrative.

On 1- Characters drive the story in 90% of fiction. If your plot is lacking, intriguing characters can make up for it. By making relatable, interesting characters, you draw the reader in for the next chapter.

2- By easy-to-digest, I mean, not thick blocks of text, or 'dense' writing. I don't like reading ten lines about the brick walls of a school, or a paragraph of exposition on a mundane topic. Bare-bones writing would be more palatable than a story which simply says too much. It's worsened if the premise is dry anyways (ie much military fiction, historical fiction, political intrigue writings). The worst part is that dry premises are usually accompanied by dense writing, and vice-versa.

3/11/2013 #15
Loraine Wentworth

Characterization is coming up here a lot as a key issue, and writing that isn't too dull/dense/full of mistakes.

I'm wondering now- what would stop a reader from continuing onto the next chapter?

3/11/2013 #16

Poor grammatical errors, complex/hard to understand plot- the usual. But seriously, dense writing is THE BIGGEST turnoff. If the first chapter is dense, then the reader will be turned off of the entire story. This is really bad for writers because often the introductory chapter is the most expository and the 'densest' or dullest, as the writer is trying to introduce characters and ideas.

Blatant spelling/grammar mistakes aren't really issues for most experienced writers, though. The plot deal is important to keep in mind, though. As an author, you have the universe of your story laid out in your mind- you know (somewhat) the plot, you know the characters, you know all of the important fundamentals. But a reader does not have this privilege. Make sure when you write your first chapter, you're not diving too deeply into the plot.

3/11/2013 #17
Kay Iscah

Working off what Scriptertwist said, I think it helps when the first few chapers bridge the reader into the writer's world, particularly when you're dealing with fantasy or sci-fi.

3/11/2013 #18

Info dump first chapters put me off usually. I like to be brought into the world gradually, and maintain an air of mystery at the start.

3/11/2013 #19

To add my two cents, this is what turns me off, typically in the order that I read it (I don't get through the first paragraph in many cases); doing the opposite keeps me reading:

1. Giant block of text every 750 words. You don't have organizational skills (because let's face it: in 750 words you've changed topics at least once!); I'm not going to bother.

2. Opposite of #1: single line paragraphs all the way to the bottom. I don't need to actually read the story to know you didn't describe the setting or show character interaction with each other/the environment.

3. Missing punctuation and/or lowercase letters at the start of sentences. -- These two things tend to run together; if you're doing one you're probably doing the other. If you can't get it up for the first paragraph, there's no way you did for the rest of the story. I expect a writer to care about what they post; my review isn't going to help you if you already aren't worried about presenting your best to the reader.

4. Misuse of commas. A mistake here or there is one thing, but if at a glance I can see huge run on sentences or commas after every other word, I'll stop. I want to read the story seamlessly. If I have to stop to figure out what you're saying because you didn't punctuate correctly, I'm not going to get that experience. I'm a reader; I want to read, not solve the Great Comma Mystery. That's the writer's job.

Congrats, you passed! Now I'm actually reading. But I'll stop if:

1. The first sentence (and maybe the second) fail to provide anything specific or unique to the story.

For example:

"A mysterious figure walked down a path in the woods. She turned left."

I'll probably leave unless I have a reason to continue (ex. Reviewing on request), because it's exactly like every single other mysterious figure walking down a path in the woods. Stories like that are a dime a dozen.

If there's something story-specific and/or unique about how it's said, I'll hang around.


"Sasha hugged the shadows on the side of the Imperial Road. At the first sound of hooves he'd dive into the ditch and pray to Neptune for deliverance."

"Marcus Blackblade hated night raids. Stealing from the sleeping felt like cheating."

As you can see, there is something specific to the story; be it a scenery pieces, an action, animal, name- something that makes your story different from all the figures walking down the road. That's what I look for. It doesn't have to be complex or amazing; it just has to stand apart from all the other ones just like that.

2. Being mysterious for absolutely no reason at all. I think in their hunt for creating suspense a lot of writers tend to leave out important information that the reader has every right to know. They don't seem to understand that you can give away some details without spoiling the plot.

Most common symptoms of the Mystery Virus:

A. Withholding the lead character's name because you can. This is particularly offensive when the lead character is the "figure" we've been following around for three paragraphs in third person limited. You're the narrator! There is no reason to keep the name from the reader! Reveal every other character through dialogue if you want, but in third person limited you want to bond the reader to a character. It's hard to get attached/involved to/with a Figure. It's easier to get attached/involved to/with a Marcus.

In first person I'm more forgiving because not every narrator talks to themselves (My name is Phil); but give us something to latch onto for a name ASAP. For example, in the story I have on Fictionpress, Allie isn't called by name until paragraph 7, but within paragraph 3 I present her diary with an ID tag of "Stevens" which is her last name. So while you don't know she's an Allison, you can at least call her a Stevens in the interim.

B. Not describing the setting because you want the reader to wonder where the story is taking place. The reader is actively seeking to be involved in a story; denying them risks losing them. Remember that they're seeing the story with a fresh pair of eyes in the perspective of whatever character you're using.

Think about it this way: if you were the lead, would you be blind to everything but your partner's eyes being rubbed while they ask a question? No. You'd see the couch behind them, the dog on the bed, smell waffles, hear a train going by. Maybe you don't want the reader to know it's post-apocalyptic Texas, but the reader should know what the character in the scene sees. If someone dropped you off in a dessert, you'd know you were in a desert, just not which one (unless you knew the distance traveled or studied deserts). Some writers here want to surprise you with the desert in chapter two, when they really should be wanting to surprise you with which desert, instead.

C. Not describing the setting because you want the reader to be surprised that there is an army of Rats behind them. What the writer wants is for a surprise, and hey, that's great. Suspense and surprises keep the reader engaged and entertained. However, this is not a reason to neglect the scenery. People tend to just throw in enemies out of no where. Doing this can lead to a confused reader because it just comes out of left field. There are smart ways to go about doing this, but neglecting the setting just because you want the surprise effect is typically unbelievable and can make the reader feel cheated (why didn't they see the soldiers? I don't know because you never told me there were bushes to hide behind!). If I don't believe you or feel as though you didn't describe the setting on purpose, I'll stop reading.

D. Not describing the setting because everyone already knows what a schoolyard looks like. Sure, it's probably the same as every other one, but you've got to ground your characters in the scene. Some writers forget that not everyone had the same experience growing up (or that it's been a long time since some of us were in a schoolyard). Besides, I'm sure there's something unique about it. When I grew up my school was next to an "illegal drug" house and we heard cops and smelled all kinds of crazy things outside playing basketball in the city park across the street. My preschool was run by nuns essentially on farmland. That was a completely different set of sounds and smells and geography!

This symptom is typically paired with huge chunks of single line dialogue.

E. Not describing the setting because the characters aren't doing anything with it. Wrong. They're standing in it. Did you know that when you're in conversation with someone, you don't spend all that time looking at them blinking and moving their mouths? Some of the time you do, but a lot of time you look around at other stuff. You shift your feet, move around, kick a rock, watch a kid in the background. All these little details serve to ground the reader in a story. Excluding them tends to make a weaker story- thus I stop reading.

F. Not explaining a detail (such as what a spell does; who a friend is; what a noun in a made-up language means) because "it'll be revealed later." This is one of the most horrible excuses I've ever heard. There's mysterious because it's mysterious, and mysterious because you can. Nine times out of ten the writer is just pulling this gimmick to try and convince readers to stick around for the next chapter. They absolutely could explain something, but they purposefully choose to reveal it later. It typically indicates that a story isn't strong enough on it's own. A good writer will tell the story and give the readers explanations as they need to know them, not withhold them to create a sense of mystery!

3. Info dumps.

One in a chapter is forgivable if it's a sentence or two; you've gotta convey information sometimes and there's no good way to do it. But paragraphs of text of just explaining stuff, no. I'll stop immediately. There are many ways to show and describe things by weaving them into the story instead of just piling it on thick and heavy. If I get the sense that I'm reading a history textbook and not what I thought was a supernatural romance, I'll stop.

Cassie and I were best friends since second grade. Since then we did everything together, always, nonstop. When she was little she was bullied by this guy Chris. Now he's in her homeroom.


"Al, remember that time in second grade when you glued that bully's hand to his desk?"

"Yeah, what about it?" I twisted the tab off my Pepsi and flicked it across the table at her.

Ignoring that, she leaned in close. "Well, he just transferred. He's in my homeroom and I think he remembers me."

4. Flat or one-dimensional characters. This usually comes as a result of information dumps and excluding interaction with the environment. If I don't have any emotions shown to me, I'm just not going to feel anything for the character or the situation s/he's in.

To summarize this up: after reading chapter one, I will stop if I:

-If it's obvious that you didn't make an attempt to give the reader your best.

-You withhold things you shouldn't.

-Your character is flat.

*Everything I've said that makes me leave a story (after the initial grammar nonsense) can easily be done well and has been published before. Writing is a sensitive subject and just because I don't like something, doesn't mean someone else won't. But since the question is about my opinion, this is my answer.

**The exception is that if I'm reviewing a story, I will point out any and all of the above because I want a writer to grow and improve to the point where I can read the whole thing. Not everyone takes it well, unfortunately, even if I wish them well. Luckily, a lot of folks are happy to know what they can improve on, and I've seen quite a few writers grow and blossom once they learned how to (for example) remember the difference between a comma and semi-colon. :-)

3/13/2013 #20
Loraine Wentworth

Lots of useful details there, Sintallion. I especially agree with not having huge infodumps- I always find myself skimming those.

I've been constantly reworking my first chapter,especially the opening paragraph, but somehow I can't quite get it right, I think. The words sound clunky, whatever I do with them! Argh.

3/17/2013 #21

What motivates me is if I find the summary of the story interesting. Then i always click the next button, even if the 1st chapter wasn't all that great. This is coming from my experiences of reading fanfiction. I've never actually read a story on here. I'm new and extremely busy, so that's excusable.

8/13/2013 #22


1) Information. I want to know about the people and setting before being thrust into the meat of the story. Info dump or exposition away. It means more focus on the story later. And besides, if I wanted to play guessing games, I wouldn't be reading.

2) Atmosphere. I've read a couple of stories where the story and the characters were utterly forgettable, but kept reading because the atmosphere was amazing.

3) Strong secondary characters. This usually happens when the main characters are outshined by the secondaries. (case in point: Twilight)


1) I absolutely hate action in the first chapter. Nine times out of ten I'll leave before finishing the chapter. I'm there to read, not get an instant adrenaline rush and I really don't understand the appeal of it.

2) Characters. I don't mind cliches so much, but when a character is a poster child for a stereotype, particularly the emo/goth chick or overly feminine yaoi boy, I have trouble taking any of the writing seriously.

3) Technical stuff. Not a misspelled word here or a broken, totally obscure grammar rule there, but blatant disregard for the English language.

8/14/2013 #23
Kay Iscah

"I absolutely hate action in the first chapter."

For me, it depends on how this is handled. I've seen some writers weave exposition into the action beautifully, but I don't like being tossed into an epic battle with lots of obscure references that may make sense later in the story.

8/14/2013 #24

I think one of the difficulties is things that appeal to one reader are complete turn offs to another.

Personally I like a lot of action and drama right from the start. I also tend to like fast paced stories where stuff is happening rather then extended amounts of repetitive discussion and detail. Particularly I don't like redundant scenes which have nothing to do with the plot

I also think originality is important. I want to read something that I haven't read before.

I don't really care about grammar and spelling mistakes as long as the meaning of the sentence is clear. If it is hard to work out what is happening and you have to re read the same paragraph a few times or scroll back up to work out what is going on then I will quickly lose interest.

On fictionpress a lot of what convinces me to read more is reviews though. If I review your story and get a nice review in return then I am more than happy to keep reading and reviewing your work even if it isn't quite to my tastes. I want to help other writers improve and polish their stories and do the same for my own work. There is no greater reward as a write then knowing you have hooked a reader onto your story.

8/14/2013 #25
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