What makes a good book 1?

Peat

Journeyed there and back again
#1
Okay, potentially weird question. But in a trilogy or longer running series, what makes a good book 1 for you? What sort of things do authors get wrong in the situation? How much do you need a self-contained story or is it okay for it to all be set-up for the big event?

And other such questions along those lines.
 

Tanniel

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#3
I need some kind of temporary resolution. I can accept that many events in the first book are a setup for later, or that the main conflict is not resolved at all and we are clearly only getting started. But if the entire book feels like merely an introduction to the series and there is no resolution of any kind to what takes place, I will feel a certain frustration reaching the end. Maybe simply because my brain tricks me; reaching the physical end of the book makes me think I should also reach some kind of ending in the story. Even if the story actually continues in the next book. This is especially a problem if the next book is not available to be read.

I think the only piece of advice I would otherwise offer is to only explain the world when it is relevant to the plot. If it's the first book, there is plenty that needs to be laid out to the reader. No need to add to this. There will be time in future books to expand on concepts that are fascinating, but not important to the narrative. By weaving the information together with what is actually taking place in the story, it will also be better retained by the reader and just more interesting to read about.
 

TomTB

The Master Tweeter
Staff member
#4
Diverse and likeable characters, coupled with the ability of the author to actually manage to write diverse characters (which is sometimes not managed in some popular series I've read)! If this is done well, then I'm sold. Good examples I can think of right now: Memory, Sorrow, Thorn series, Ketty Jay series, and The Expanse series.

Obviously other factors come into play, but this is the most important thing for me.
 

Darwin

Journeyed there and back again
#7
It could be anything that makes a book stand out. Magic system, plot, characters, etc. All of it needs to be at least ok and something has to be incredible.

Name of the Wind - magic system
Blade Itself - characters
Eye of the World - world building + characters + magic system
The Way of Kings - world building
Game of Thrones - plot

Wouldn't it be weird if it were just any one thing, for all of those diverse books?
 

kenubrion

Journeyed there and back again
#8
Nice timing on this Peat as I was finally fortunate to "discover" a new epic fantasy book 1 yesterday by reading more than 10 samples (thanks for the samples Amazon). The author makes you care about the characters first and foremost, which is unusual in my experience, but the backstory on this one is quite important. Tugs the heartstrings almost every few pages yet provides glimpses of past and foreshadowing of battles against the most varied assortment of monsters I have read. I can't wait to get there. And for whoever it was above who said there has to be some resolution in book one, the situation involves a quest that will consume the entire book but will obviously be solved.
 

Maark Abbott

Journeyed there and back again
#10
For me, it has to grab me in some way. The characters need to pop, the world needs to be interesting and believable, and the story of book 1 has to be both self contained but also draw me into the larger plot. If a book lacks any one of those things, it'll cause issue for me. More than one and I'll most likely decry it in public. If it has all three, it's just Stormlight and [long, winding diatribe that we've heard a thousand times before].
 

Noor Al-Shanti

Philosophizes with Kellhus
#11
An actual conclusion that makes it stand as an actual story of its own + good world-building. Making it a world that I enjoyed being in and want to revisit is what will most likely get me to pick up the second book. If there's no actual conclusion and it turns out it was just a huge prologue I will not look at the second book no matter how good the world-building (or any other factor) was.
 

ExTended

Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune
#12
Usually in book one, especially if it's a new writer for me, even if this isn't the author's first even published book( example of such is Brandon Sanderson with which I've started with Mistborn instead of Elantris), I'd look for things which I could enjoy, or which could keep me excited/intrigued about for a long time.

Author's tone, the characters, the prose - those are all things that usually transfer into the next books, so I'd prefer if the author can make me enjoy them from as early on as possible.

Obviously the excited/intrigued feelings, or the feeling of exploration, are more tied to the plot, setting and worldbuilding as a whole. There I am looking for the perfect learning curve - if the author knows how to pace/ration those in the first books, it instantly gives me the assurance that yes, he'd probably be able to keep the good work in the next books.

And on the other hand - there are things that could make me stop after the first books, even if most of the things are done right. If I find the book's over-all tone too light, grim or flimsy. Most of the best authors can walk that line very well, but sometimes they slip - i.e. Robin Hobb's first Assassin book felt too depressing for me and I wouldn't continue with the series for some time afterwards, because I was pissed.

Basically - it depends from series to series.
 

ABatch

Ran bridges next to Kaladin
#13
It has to be a stand-alone...with an option to continue if I'm hooked. The stakes have to be huge, so we wonder, "How on Earth is the author going to top THIS?" Has to have a balance of action, darkness and humor. If there's no humor, I ain't going forward!
 

TomTB

The Master Tweeter
Staff member
#14
It has to be a stand-alone...with an option to continue if I'm hooked. The stakes have to be huge, so we wonder, "How on Earth is the author going to top THIS?" Has to have a balance of action, darkness and humor. If there's no humor, I ain't going forward!
I'm with you. If any book is devoid of humour, I will undoubtedly struggle with it. I'm not looking for comedies, but often just that smattering of wit will help raise a book to a higher level. I think this goes hand in hand with my earlier point regarding likeable characters.
 

Silvion Night

Sir Readalot
Staff member
#15
I'm with you. If any book is devoid of humour, I will undoubtedly struggle with it. I'm not looking for comedies, but often just that smattering of wit will help raise a book to a higher level. I think this goes hand in hand with my earlier point regarding likeable characters.
Aah, there's the reason you don't like Bakker's books then. Hardly any humor and the characters are unlikable.

Great story, world-building and action though.
 

Matticus Primal

Journeyed there and back again
#16
I was just going through some coverages on a pilot for a show, and I think that's pretty much what I'd like in book one of a series: A good pilot episode. So it should establish the hook of the series (Harry Potter = magic school), along with the main characters, villains, genre and show formula (like how Harry Potter takes place over the course of a school year each book).

But, like a good pilot, it also needs to have a satisfying stand alone story. With maybe the exception of Lost and BSG, most pilots conclude an introductory adventure, and I'd like that from my first book as well. It obviously doesn't have to clear up everything, but I want a sense of accomplishment; that things are different now on the last page than when the protags began whatever journey this was.
 

Cyphon

Journeyed there and back again
#17
For me it is almost always about characters and plot. There has to be at least 1 character I want to keep reading and the plot has to be something that keeps me excited for what comes next. Some kind of twist or intrigue. The best results for keeping me hooked always come from the author giving me questions I just have to know the answers to. I am a big fan of magic systems or training schools as well, but all of that is kind of secondary in the end. You could have a crazy good magic system but if I don't care about any of the characters using it I probably won't continue.
 

Bill Door

Listens to The Unbeliever whine about life
#18
A first book seems to be as tricky as a 3rd act. Most writers either put all their best ideas in the first book (Mistborn trilogy) and flame out as it goes on or they don't give enough (Instrumentalities of the Night which i just read) for most readers to keep on going. It's also never good to throw a ton of information at a reader in your first book the way IotN does in its first book. It starts to come off like you are reading a directory and just become overwhelming in general.
 
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Ryan W. Mueller

Ran bridges next to Kaladin
#19
1. The book should get going within the first 20 pages. If you spend your first few chapters with the characters going through a bunch of mundane things, I'll probably give up on it unless it has really good reviews.

2. Hints of an interesting world. You don't have to play all your cards in the first book, but I want the feeling that there's a lot more to the world than you see in that first book. That's part of what will bring me back for more.

3. Characters that I actually want to read about. This is a bit of a vague term because it depends mostly on how well the characters are written.

4. Writing that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. Thankfully, I encounter very few writers who can't manage this.

5. Good action scenes. If your action scenes are boring, I'm probably going to struggle to keep reading.
 

rudyjuly2

Journeyed there and back again
#20
I prefer a book with a mystery laced throughout it. It's looking forward to that mystery being solved that is often the difference between an average book and a good one imo. Not overwhelming readers with too many characters or political aspects is important to me too. Every great book needs a unique catch in some way but a mystery is what gets me.