Monday, 27 April 2015

Chapter One: Gone Girl

Chapter One is a series of posts where I take apart the first chapter of a successful book to see what makes it work, how the author hooked the reader, which rules were followed and which were broken to good effect (previous entries can be found here: Chapter One Analyses).

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was published in 2012 and made into a hit movie last year. The author’s previous two novel were moderately successful, but sold nowhere near as many copies as this one.

It’s a contemporary mystery thriller, written in the first person by two narrators, both of whom seem fairly unreliable. Chapters are alternated in a he said/she said format. The story starts with the husband (Nick) writing on the day his wife goes missing. The wife (Amy) is represented by a diary that begins on the day she first met Nick at a party in Manhattan.

I’ll be looking at both first chapters (his and hers) to see how they differ and how they complement each other.

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.

The first line is quite an odd one. Nick is remembering the unique shape of his wife’s head, but rather than a romantic memory it comes across more like a serial killer fondly recalling a favourite skull in his collection.

I’m sure this is intentional, for the writer I can see it as an effective way to make the reader unsure about how this guy feels about his wife. But from the character’s perspective it seems a strange way to begin a story.

The oddness of the first paragraph is enough to keep you reading, I think, but a little contrived. A way to get to him wondering what went on in her head, establishing the distance between them. I didn’t really believe the first thing he thought about when thinking of his wife was the shape of her head.

The next few paragraphs are him waking up. Starting a story with a character waking up in bed, sun streaming through curtains etc., is considered amateurish and will be found on any list of things to avoid in a first chapter. And for good reason. It’s dull, it’s clichéd and it tells you very little. And all those things are true here.

Of course, no rule is absolute and there’s always a way to make the old new and fresh again. Not in this case, though.

At that exact moment, 6-0-0, the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-god self. Its reflection flared across the river…

Both character’s are writers by trade (him a reviewer for Entertainment Weekly type mags, her a quiz writer for something similar to Cosmo), and both have lost their jobs due to the internet’s effects on the publishing industry. Clearly not a day too soon.

There then follows an extensive chunk of backstory. We learn how they meet, lost their jobs, moved back to his hometown in Missouri, her reluctance, their lack of options, and the buying of a bar with the last of her trust fund.

This part isn’t too bad. Even though info-dumping isn’t encouraged in the first chapter either, I’ve always felt it depends on how interesting your dump is. In this case the way he works in commentary about the economy, the state of the publishing industry and his hometown, his general mood of pessimism and guilt about taking his wife away from the life she was accustomed to, all helps bolster the expositional stuff so I wasn’t bored (which is my main criteria for what makes something worth reading).

Eventually he gets out of bed, goes down to the kitchen where his wife is making breakfast and then we cut to him going to work (at the bar). The chapter ends with him seeing a line of men walking along the river bank, mirroring the feeling he got from the angry-god sun (you have been seen) and he hurries into the bar.

I don’t know who the men were or why he felt disturbed by them, but I don’t think I’m meant to. I think it’s meant to feel odd, again, as a way to set the tone for the story, and I think it does that fine.

So, nothing much happens in this opening chapter. It’s more about tone and introduction. He’s not happy in his marriage, he feels guilty and a little bitter.

He isn’t a very sympathetic character and I think the author has gone out of her way to make you question his loyalties. This is not the normal approach for this sort of story. Usually in a story where a man is suspected of killing someone, we are encouraged to empathise with him and be on his side. If he turns out to be innocent we are relieved, if he is guilty, we are surprised. Both resolutions work, the important thing is to keep the reader following the story. Something much harder to do if they don’t like the character.

However, in this case, the dual narrators shifts the focus onto who is the good guy here, rather than rooting for one person from the outset. This probably works best in mysteries where the reader is perhaps willing to wait a little longer to find out what’s really going than in other genres.

Tra and la! I am smiling a big adopted-orphan grin as I write this. I am embarrassed at how happy I am, like some Technicolor comic of a teen-girl talking on the phone with my hair in a ponytail, the bubble over my head saying: I met a boy!

My first reaction was to fervently hope the rest of her diary entries weren’t written in this style. I haven’t read the whole book, nor seen the movie, but I know enough of the story to suspect she isn’t quite the gushy Sex in the City fan this makes her seem. 

There are plenty of clues that she is aware how her writing will come across. She makes several references to her job as writer of quizzes in women’s magazines, the kind of status it gives her among other writers, and her need to practice her skills. And beyond that there’s a sense that all is not quite what it seems. I think her fizzy personality and one liners are meant to keep you engaged but still, having to actually plough through pages of this pseudo-teen mag!!!! writing fills me with more dread than any murderer.

The end of her chapter, where they kiss under a shower of powdered sugar, is particularly cheesy, and makes me think she’s faking it (or at least hope she is).

Having said that, the difference between narrators is very clear. You wouldn’t confuse the two styles, even without chapter titles. It’s also clear both aren’t being totally frank. He wears his guilt like a fluorescent jacket, and she writes like a delusional Austen fan.

Neither character is particularly appealing at this point. In fact I’d say neither chapter is remarkable in any way. So what makes this such a successful book?

Well, I have no doubt it’s a good story, with interesting twists and turns and fascinating characters even if you don’t like them very much. What it tells me is that you don’t need a slam bang opening, even for a thriller, if people have some expectation of good things to come.

In previous Chapter Ones I’ve considered bestsellers with slow starts to have been countered by having established authors behind the wheel. If you know the author and have confidence in their abilities you really won’t care very much about the first couple of chapters.

In this case, though, the writer was fairly unknown and her books mid-list at best. If it wasn’t an attention grabbing opening that sold the public on the book, what was it?

I think it was probably a number of thing but in my opinion most likely it was marketing and publicity. Seeing a book advertised heavily in newspapers, seeing it reviewed well by journalists in serious publications has a similar effect as a big name author’s name above the title. People assume there must be something to all the hubbub and won’t be put off by a slow start (or even a hackneyed one as in this case).

Getting publicity, though, isn’t all that easy. It’s where big publishers have it a lot easier than those self-publishing on Amazon. Not that simply signing with a traditional publisher will get you the same kind of results. They don’t spread their money around evenly, they prefer to choose one or two books they think will do well and then push them down everyone’s throats as hard as they can. Seems to work.

What it does tell you is that readers aren’t all that bothered about how a story starts if they have a reasonable expectation that good things are coming. You just have to find a way to give them that expectation.
If you found this post useful, please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Patricia Lynne said...

There have been a few books I've read that I thought the beginning wasn't the best. I kept reading because the story interested me and I wanted to know what happened.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

From the examples, it doesn't sound like a thrilling beginning and the characters are not very likeable. I think the fuel behind the marketing campaign had a lot to do with it. Seeing it everywhere, with great reviews, meant readers kept pushing through to find a great story. Which there must be one after that slow beginning.

mooderino said...

@Patricia - I generally have reasons other than a good opening line or chapter to read a book. I think most people do.

@Alex - Obviously it helps if there is something worthwhile there, and I think there probably is here, but I certainly wouldn't be too impressed if i was coming to this cold.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said... described...I would never have gotten past the first chapter. :)

leadyson said...

I admit that I was sucked in by marketing as well, but I wasn't as impressed as much as my peers. I had to force myself to get through it and mostly because I hated both characters.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

The rise of unlikeable characters has been pretty common these days, both in film and books. I recently saw a movie called "Ex Machina" that had some pretty terrible characters in it, yet it got a lot of buzz and critical acclaim. I guess that people want gritty reality and "real" flawed characters. I can see the appeal, but in the end, it's not a kind of entertainment I really like spending too much time pursuing.

Chemist Ken said...

Didn't read the book. Saw the movie (because my wife wanted to see it). Not bad, but things didn't pick up until the twists started happening, and that didn't occur until much later in the movie.

Thanks for the post. It got me thinking about first chapters.

Kquotes Com said...

I admit that I was sucked in by marketing as well, but I wasn't as impressed as much as my peers. I had to force myself to get through it and mostly because I hated both characters. best friend quotes

Danialjohn said...

The essay writing is helps for making perfect writing papers for the students can get their communication knowledge. The best thesis writing is wonderful writing company for providing tips and genuine writing papers

Albert jack said...

Your articles make whole sense of every topic.
write my essay

jack man said...

Keep it up!! You have done the nice job having provided the latest information.
professional essay writers

Marlene Saffan said...

Mind your vocabulary, grammar, a particular subject, and writing style. The paper has to contain 100% unique content. Click how to make an annotated bibliography to find more!

Neil Jakson said...

it's really nice and meaningful. it's really cool blog. Linking is very useful have really helped lots of people who visit blog and provide them useful information
Dissertation writing services

Isabella Olivia said...

This information is impressive; I am inspired with your post writing style & how continuously you describe this topic.

Pawn Shop

Pawn Loans

Pawn Shops

Pawn Loan

Pawn Shop near me

Tracy Johns said... described...I would never have gotten past the first chapter. Send Flowers To Japan

Peter Willson said...

i have found your blog on google while searching about the unique story and now here i your blog you have done good work like its presentation, design and many other things...really nice...keep updating with new post....custom paper writing

Asim Khan said...

Meaningful quotes. I like all. Planning is really important. you specified it. Thank you so much for sharing this.Calves and Their use in Exercise

Muhammad said...

really amazing article and very useful knowledge i really appriciate that person who is writing this article and very depth knowledge he has thanks for sharing.

Buy Online outdoor & Hunting product .

Muhammad said...

really amazing article and very useful knowledge i really appriciate that person who is writing this article and very depth knowledge he has thanks for sharing.

Buy Online outdoor & Hunting product .

Muhammad said...

really amazing article and very useful knowledge i really appriciate that person who is writing this article and very depth knowledge he has thanks for sharing.
Good Hand Offers A Range Of Amer, Amer Services For Individuals And Organizations.

Unknown said...

Bast My Website New Movie Natok Mp3 Album Free Download

Mike Tyson said...

I'm really impressed with your effort...Thanks for sharing this informationwith us.

Bulgarian Split Squat

vipan kumar said...

Nyc posting keep up this kind of posting
blogger BlogSpot seo tips
Youtube Tips and Tricks

Paper Writing Services said...

At EM, we have hundreds of talented writers working for us. These writers have gone through the same ordeal of assignments, term papers, thesis papers and whatnot and so, they understand how it can be impossible to manage so many things together.

position papers writing services | buy position papers online | term paper writing services | buy term papers online | Coursework Writing Services | Dissertation Writing Services | Thesis Writing Services | Research Papers Writing Services | Assignment Writing Services | Lab Reports Writing Services" | Reaction Papers Writing Services

Raginibhatt said...

Shweta escort agency will help you find hot call girls in bangalore. No.1 bangalore escort
service provided by shweta. If you are seeking high profile bangalore call girls sure we will deliver at home & hotel service. escorts
bangalore escorts

Raginibhatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Muhammad said...

This is such an informative post. You have a lot of really great points. I wish I had this post as a resource when I started blogging.
Amer Services in Dubai .

Henry Louis said...

When it comes to dissertation writing services, there are many service providers in the market, but make sure to choose the best of them – a2z essays. A2z have been providing quality academic writing services in different forms for college and university levels for many years in the past. We have a dedicated team of highly qualified and experiences writers and editors who make sure that our clients get the best services at the most needed times at very competitive prices.

Academic Writing Services | Dissertation Writing Services | Custom Dissertation Papers | Coursework Writing Services


It's wonderful review and thanks to allow me posting in your popular site. I belief you will do better day by day and boom. Really I am knowledgeable reading your post. I shall be waiting for your next post.

See here How to register a company

jyotsna rani jena said...



cross massage in kolkata, Raipur,Lucknow,Bangalore
thai spa in kolkata,Raipur,Lucknow,Bangalore
couple massage in kolkata,Raipur,Lucknow,Bangalore
ayurvedic massage in kolkata,Raipur,Lucknow,Bangalore
aroma oil massage in kolkata,Raipur,Lucknow,Bangalore

jyotsna rani jena said...


Hair regrowth in Bhubaneswar
Hair regrowth in Odisha
Baldness treatment in Bhubaneswar
Hair and laser clinic in Bhubaneswar
Cosmetology clinic in Bhubaneswar
Laser acne and scar treatment in Bhubaneswar
Nasolabial folds correction at Bhubaneswar
Facial contouring at Bhubaneswar and odisha
Lip re-defination at Bhubaneswar
Frawn line and forehead line correction in Bhubaneswar

SEBA BD said...

Thank you very much for for your great information. It really makes me happy and I am satisfied with the arrangement of your post. You are really a talented person I have ever seen. I will keep following you forever. If you have time you can check this site and give me suggestion.
Hotel Bedding Supplies

Zara Gray said...

Good work and thank you for sharing this information. I congratulate your effort to do this.
Best essay writing service

jyotsna rani jena said...

very nice..


Best spa in Kolkata

Best cross massage in kolkata

thai spa in Electronic city

Spa in Raipur

Best couple massage in Raipur

spa in Lucknow

Best ayurvedic massage in Lucknow

spa in Bangalore

Best aroma oil massage in Bangalore

ravi kaur said...

It's wonderful review and thanks to allow me posting in your popular site. I belief you will do better day by day and boom. Really I am knowledgeable reading your post. I shall be waiting for your next post.
Best IELTS institute in Ludhiana

Twinkle said...

Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!
Web Design and Development In India, Web Development Company In India, Web Development Services in India, Domain Registration Company In India, Digital Marketing Services in India, Bulk SMS Service Provider in India

S Happy said...

Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Hotels in Tuticorin, Hotels in Thoothukudi, Best Hotel in Tuticorin

Avira Antivirus said...

Thanks for the very helpful post. Very informative post. Avira is the best free antivirus in the current industry. As users uses the software sometimes gives unknown issues to solve it you need to contact the support team. They will help you get your problem solved immediately. Avira error code 556, Avira Error code 45, Avira Customer support, Avira Support Number.
Avira Antivirus Support Team

edu birdie said...

Awesome post. I hope you will share such type of impressive contents again with us so that we can utilize it and get more advantage. Visit coursework writing service

liza said...

read this above post its very greatful for me thanks sharing this post ,grea visit our web

t post.

liza said...

NICE for giving a chance to share ideas for your comuty i really thanks for that great post.

buyessay said...

Thank you so much for sharing such brilliant information as always.Thanks for sharing this. I really like your blog post very much. You have shared an interesting blog post. best paper writing service

writersworldessay said...

Thank you very much for your post. It's been very informative. Have a look at my website! coursework writing service You will get all sorts of essay assignments related to your academics.

Rajeesh Raghavan said...

Thank you for the tips , it will definitely help for me to enhance my blog on My seo company kerala

Amanda Fernandas said...

Such a nice post, keep providing good resources.Great Information, thanks for sharing it here with us. Keep updating such more informative articles. essay writing service reviews , dissertation writing service , admission essay writing service , thesis writing service , write my essay for me , assignment writing service , term paper writing service , coursework writing service

Charles Parshel said...

Really great one seo services kerala

Krystal said...

Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!
SATHYA Technosoft Pte Ltd
Buy SSL Certificate Singapore | SSL Certificate Providers in Singapore
Email hosting Singapore | Business email hosting service Singapore
Web Design Company Singapore | Website Development Singapore
Ecommerce Website Design Singapore

jon blly said...

This is a exclussive post, Thank you for shearing good knowledge with us. If you are GPS user and you want to update your GPS device Garmin GPS Fails to Unlock Issue then you can visit our website for the proper solution.

Garmin GPS Fails to Unlock Issue

jon blly said...

this a graet post thanks for sharing good knowledge with us if you need any halp for AVAST ERROR CODE 110 you can visit our website for the problem of the solution


Technical Support said...

Thanks for the lovely post. It is very helpful. If you require steps to fix HP Printer Error code 22 , then visit our website and get complete solutions for the issue. You will get the steps through our website.

BHI Makeup Academy said...

Thank you for sharing such a great information but we are India's best service provider of Makeup Courses - BHI Makeup Academy

makeup courses in India

beautician course

Shotblasting said...

Very nice post and right to the point. also, see other posts really good content I find here. Thank you.
shot blasting machine
shot blasting
sand blasting
sand blasting machine
steel shots distributors
Sandblasting Abrasive media

Video Production Company said...

Excellent and nice post. It will beneficial for everyone. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post.
video production company
film production house
Corporate film makers
Documentary Film Makers in Delhi
Filmmakers in Delhi
promotional video services in delhi ncr

Web Profit Online said...

Thanks for sharing such a great information but we are India's best Web Development Company in Faridabad - Web Profit Online.
Website Designing Company in Faridabad
Web Designing Company in Faridabad
Website Development Company in Faridabad

swapna sri said...

Thank You! For sharing such a great article, It’s been an amazing article. It provides lot’s of information, I really enjoyed to read this, I hope, I will get these kinds of information on a regular basis from your side.

blockchain app development company in Bangalore
top chatbot development companies
top blockchain app development companies
React native apps development companies

post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


PSD to Blogger Templates realized by & PSD Theme designed by