Thursday, October 10, 2013

Starts That Will Make Readers Finish!

As well as being a writer of fiction, I am also an avid reader. And in the course of my reading I have put down several books because the first few chapters weren’t going anywhere. Either they were bogging the book down with unnecessary backstory, or they were too involved that the reader had no idea what was going on. Here’s five ways to avoid the above mistakes, and write starts that will make readers finish.

1) Start with an unusual statement, something that goes against the status quo. By unusual, I mean a line that will keep the reader hungering for more, not confusing them. Some classic examples include,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

"Scarlet O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” - Gone With The Wind, Margret Mitchell

2) Never start with long winded backstory. Although I love the starts of the above novels, and although writing standards have changed drastically since the era the novels were written in, I don’t advise beginning with the entire history of the hero’s life, or what happened to the heroine when she was six. Unless, of course, that’s where the story starts. Instead, weave in backstory as needed, slowly and seamlessly.

3) Don’t begin with the character waking up or hearing his alarm clock. (lol) We all know what happens when someone gets up, we don’t need to read about it. If the character’s morning rituals are essential to the story, weave them in later, rather than throwing them at the reader at the beginning. Or show them as a flashback. Anything but on page one.

4) Don’t begin with a battle or car chase. The oft quoted story of the Hollywood producer and the young screenwriter applies here. We want to know who’s in the car or who the armies are. Instead, begin with a different pivotal point and save the car chases for a few chapters later.

5) Last but not least practice, practice, practice. Try several beginnings, and see which one fits. Poll friends and family. Read authors you admire and study their first page. And most importantly never give up.

 Do you prefer a cinematic beginning or does a description draw you in?

Happy Writing!

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