Do you want your popular fiction novel to reach lots of readers and garner great reviews? Of course you do! Competition is fierce, so your first pages have to grab the readers and compel them to keep turning the pages till the end.
Whether in a bookstore or shopping online, potential readers start by checking out the back cover blurb, then read the first page or two. Based on that, they'll either buy that novel or move on to another.
Your first pages are critical!
Gone are the days when fiction readers were willing to read pages of description and lead-up before being introduced to the characters and the plot. Readers, agents, and publishers today don’t have the time or patience to wade through pages of backstory and description, so you need to grab their interest right from the first sentence and first paragraph of your story.
As James Scott Bell says in Revision and Self-Editing, about the opening paragraphs,
“Give us a character in motion. Something happening to a person from line one. Make that a disturbing thing, or have it presage something disturbing.”
HERE ARE 12 DOS AND DON'TS FOR HOOKING READERS IN RIGHT FROM THE START. These are not hard-and-fast rules, of course, but techniques for engaging your readers emotionally, which is what will keep them turning the pages.
1. Don’t begin with a long, neutral description of the setting or with background information on your main character.
Readers want to get a handle very early on as to the 5 W's: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Who is this character, exactly? Give the gender, approximate age, occupation, and standing in life of your protagonist. Also, what's going on and where are they? Is it the present or past? Once readers have a basic idea of your main character and story world, they can sit back and relax and get into the story.
10. Don’t leave the reader wondering what the characters look like or their approximate ages.
Act first, explain later.
Here are some effective opening lines from bestselling novels. Notice that the protagonist is mentioned by name right at the beginning, and the scene is in his/her point of view. Also, some tension and intrigue is introduced right away to compel us to keep reading.
"Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, no foam, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man’s life change forever."
– Lee Child, first line of The Hard Way
"The voice on the phone was a whisper. It had a forceful, almost desperate quality to it.
Henry Pierce told the caller he had a wrong number, but the voice became insistent."
- Michael Connelly, opening lines of Chasing the Dime
"The man with the rubber boots stepped into the elevator behind me, but I didn't see him at first. I smelled him though--the pungent odor of smoke and cheap wine and life on the street without soap."
- John Grisham, opening lines of The Street Lawyer
"I’d never given much thought to how I would die – even though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."
– Stephenie Meyer, first line of Twilight
– Elmore Leonard, first line of Glitz
"Cooper Sullivan’s life, as he’d known it, was over."
– Nora Roberts, first line of Black Hills
"Dallas ran, far from the house. He could hear his aunt Betsy calling to him, but he needed to escape."
- Heather Graham, opening of the Prologue of The Summoning
Do you have any gripping opening lines you'd like to share? Please use the comments below. Thanks.
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Website: www.JodieRenner.com; Facebook. Amazon Author Page.