A common mistake made by beginning writers is trying to tell the entire story in the first chapter. Or even in the first paragraph.
By giving your novel the “slow build” you give the reader a better opportunity to be enchanted with your story and your characters.
A prime example of this slow build process is Lindsay Buroker’s The Emperor’s Edge series.
While most authors write a single novel, Ms. Buroker takes her readers and her characters through a series of seven books (thus far). This affords her the luxury of building on her characters with each series entry. She has mastered the slow build.
I’ll use the character of Akstyr as an illustration.
When we first meet Akstyr he is in the stockade for practicing magic. The Turgonian Empire denies the very existence of magic. Anyone practicing it is punished. Amaranthe Lokdon, the heroin of the series, enlists Akstyr’s help in a plot to thwart the assassination of Emperor Sespian.
From the moment we meet him, Akstyr displays contempt toward everyone and everything, with the exception of studying magic. One wonders why he chose to throw his lot in with this band of miscreants. He keeps himself distanced from everyone in the group, even plotting to turn one of them in for the bounty. He’s one of those characters you want to like but his attitude and his actions leave you shaking your head.
Once we meet Aktyr’s mother in Blood and Betrayal (Book 5) we begin to understand the young man’s attitude. We also realize his attitude is a defense mechanism: he uses it to protect himself against getting hurt.
We also find out he cares more than he lets on.
By presenting him as a lackadaisical character Buroker piques the reader’s interest about him while also tweaking just a touch of frustration with him.
Once his true nature is revealed, all is forgiven. Almost all.
It’s almost like knowing a real person.
The slow build process Ms. Buroker spans over several novels can be achieved in one. It’s all about timing: When, where and how you choose to divulge the essential aspects of your character so your reader gets to know that character gradually. Just like getting to know a real person.
Give the reader just enough to keep them wanting more.