Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 7, 2014

Beginnings

For me, the beginning of a book is always the most difficult to write. The first pages are important and require a huge amount of planning and attention. From the first word, a story has much to do. And if I fail to do it well, my readers won’t enjoy my book.
Page one should present a compelling question, situation, or character in such a way that a reader is immediately interested and wants to know more. Writers call the words or sentences that accomplish this a hook because they catch a reader’s attention and hopefully won’t let them leave.
A good hook not only grabs readers’ interest but also tells them the type of story they’re about to read. Some stories promise a mystery, some promise deep emotion, some promise a view of another world. Before readers can understand the forthcoming trip, they must know what direction they’re heading.
The first pages should give the reader an idea of the time and place of the story and introduce the main character. Readers want someone to focus on and root for, be it a knight of the round table or a traveler in deep space. And the writer must show this person to be an individual capable of feelings, complex in character, and worthy of a reader’s time without throwing in pages of boring details about his past.
From the first word, sentence, and paragraph, a story should have implicit conflict. Something isn’t going as expected or a situation is about to change, A character has a problem, or soon will, and he’s going to need guts to solve it and find happiness. Maybe he’ll be on a quest, be running from danger, be seeking love or trying to save a marriage. Maybe he needs to win a contest or solve a crime. Whatever his situation, the reader knows the character is in trouble right away.
The beginning of a book must show the writer is credible: he or she can be trusted to use the English language correctly and get the details of a situation right. If the sun is bright at midnight, we’d better not be in Miami. If sentences sprawl or have faulty punctuation, how can a reader trust that the story won’t be equally flawed?
Doing all this on page one is a daunting task. Sometimes a writer needs two or three pages. But if we hope to get readers interested in a story quickly, we have to promise them a good read, earn their trust, show them our story is worth hours of their time.
I want my readers to be hooked from the first line and keep reading to find out what happens. So I spend many hours crafting a beginning I hope they’ll enjoy.
Finding the perfect opening is often difficult. But if readers stick with me past page one, then my struggles have been worthwhile.

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