It used to be an author would spend pages setting the scene, describing the beautiful countryside or the courtly manor in which their protagonist lived. In vivid, laborious detail. And the audience loved it.
Time was taken to draw an exact portrait of each character. With words. And the audience loved it.
The first chapter could very well be completely made up of backstory. And the audience loved it.
But, today, the reader is less patient. They want to know now.
But they do still need to know. So, how do we get the information to them while keeping their attention. A few seconds is all you have to hook them into staying.
And before you even reach the general public, you have to hook the agent. And then the editor. And then the publisher.
In his book The First Fifty Pages (yes, I like this book), Jeff Gerke asserts that you have 50 pages to accomplish this task.
In reality you only have one page. And then the next. And then the next.
As Westley in The Princess Bride quoted the Dread Pirate Robert, “Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
Here are 5 ideas to help you keep your readers turning those first critical pages.
- Make sure your opening is free of any bloopers—grammatical, spelling, formatting, etc.— that would earn you an immediate rejection. Polish your work. Get several sets of eyes (hint: critique group) on it. Read it out loud.
- Grab your readers’ attention. Get your metaphorical hands around their throat and don’t let go. Intrigue them. Shock them. Tease them. Bait them. Make them cry, laugh, scream. Bit by bit, leave a trail of bread crumbs they can’t resist following.
- Give your reader a reason to care about your protagonist and connect emotionally with the characters in your story. What is the problem the protagonist must overcome? Get your readers emotions involved as soon as you can.
- Give your readers the information they need to get on to the rest of the story. Don’t beat around the bush, but don’t lose them by jumping so quickly into the story they don’t know where they are.
- Give your backstory as you go along. Avoid information dumps. Especially at the beginning. Before your reader will sit still for downloads of information, they have to want to know.
There are many ideas that can help an author grab the reader’s attention and keep it. What tips do you follow to ensure a strong start?
A book I found as a helpful reference is Hooked by Les Edgerton.
What is the worst opening line you have ever read in a book?
What it the best opening line?
Angela D. Meyer lives in NE with her husband and two children whom they homeschool - recently graduating their son. She has taught Bible class for over 35 years and is on the leadership team of her local Christian writers group. She loves God, her family, the ocean, good stories, connecting with friends, taking pictures, quiet evenings and a good laugh. Someday she wants to ride in a hot air balloon and vacation by the sea.