The opening paragraphs and first page of your novel or short story are absolutely critical. How you craft your opening will make the difference between a potential reader starting your book, then putting it down (or rejecting it online) and seeking another one, or, their interest and curiosity piqued, eagerly turning the page to read on.
As James Scott Bell says so wisely in his writing guide, Revision and Self-Editing, about the opening paragraphs,
Here are twelve dos and don’ts for making the first page of your novel zing and entice readers to turn to the second page. Note that these are recommendations to hook readers in, not hard-and-fast rules.
1. DON’T begin with a long description of the setting or with detailed background information on your characters.
2. DON’T start with a character other than your protagonist.
3. DON’T start with a description of past events.
4. DON’T start in a viewpoint other than the main character’s.
5. DON’T present your protagonist in a static, neutral (boring) situation.
6. DON’T start with your character all alone, reflecting on his life.
7. DON’T start with your protagonist planning a trip, or travelling somewhere; in other words, as a lead-up to an important scene.
8. DON’T introduce a lot of characters in the first few pages.
10. DON’T leave the reader wondering what the characters look like.
11. DON’T have the main character looking in the mirror as a device for describing him/her. This has been overdone.
12. DON’T wait too long to introduce the hero in a romance or romantic suspense.
Remember, you can always start your story wherever you want in the draft stage, if it’ll make you feel better. Then in the editing stage, you can go back and cut out or condense the first several paragraphs or pages or even most of the first chapter, so that, in your final draft, your actual story starts after all that lead-up (some of which may appear later, in snippets here and there).
In conclusion, here’s some great advice for writing compelling fiction, coined by author Dan Brown and made popular by James Scott Bell:
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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: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICKCLICKS: 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. You can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at www.JodieRenner.com, and on Facebook.
These are all the rules I learned when I began writing novels, and I've tried to follow them faithfully. However, I am now also a reviewer for New York Journal of Books, so I read A LOT of NEW books, and I must tell you these rules are broken constantly in books published not only by small or Indie pubs, but in books published by the Big Five. In fact, mostly by the Big Five. Are purists like me and you behind the times? LOLReplyDelete
C.C., I'm an avid reader of bestselling fiction, and these very brief guidelines are also a result of my personal reading and what grabs me and what makes me roll my eyes. Personally, I think the Big Five publishers don't invest as much as they used to in quality editors who will really think about techniques that excite readers or turn them off. Also, authors are pressured to churn out books much faster and I'm sure editors are discouraged from bringing points to the author's attention, as revisions slow down production. That's my take on it, anyway. Also, why not encourage new writers to think more about reader reactions? Congrats on being a reviewer for New York Journal of Books! Kudos to you!ReplyDelete
Hello Jodie, I love your advice. My character is lying on the tideline unable to get up and about to drown. This breaks many of the rules, such as she's alone and thinking about her situation..etc....I've been told by beta readers they're intrigued to find out how she got herself into this mess. What do you think?Delete
Hi Goldie. Your opening sounds really intriguing! Go for it! My tips are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules, and it's smart that you're using beta readers to test the waters. Good luck with this novel. Can't wait to read it!Delete