Wednesday, June 8, 2016

5 Ways to Write a Killer Opening for Your Book

When a reader picks up a book, the first thing they look at is its cover. No matter how many times it has been repeated that books should not be judged by their cover, there is no denying that it is the first thing that catches the eye. The second thing readers look at is the back cover blurb. Once the book has passed these two tests, it all comes down to the first few pages. Will the reader fall in love with the plot, the characters, the scene? Will there be enough elements to intrigue the reader and make him/her want to read on?

We've already covered the basics of the cover image before, and there is more than enough out there outlining the do's and the don'ts of creating a magnificent blurb. However, past that point, have you ever considered how to create a compelling opening scene or chapter? One that your reader won't want to put down?

Here are several important factors that readers want to experience in an opening, based on Joan Dempsey’s 'Popular Question - Compelling Openings in Fiction’ from her amazing *free* newsletter:
  • To feel grounded in the setting. Is the scene clear enough for the reader to feel she's in a 'real' place? Consider the setting itself, the time of day, the weather/time of year. Is the character sitting, standing, lying down, walking, swimming, rowing, etc?
  • To get right into the action. Is the protagonist immediately engaged in some sort of action? Not action like shoot-‘em up (unless you’re writing that kind of book), but action as in doing something in a scene that doesn’t involve a lot of backstory or throat-clearing to try to pave the reader’s way into the action. One of the worst things you can do is begin with a lot of back story or explanation that leads the reader to where the story truly begins (yawn). Start in media res (in the middle of things). Sprinkle in backstory as needed. 
  • To engage all senses - touch, smell, taste, sight, sound, emotion. Get inside your characters' bodies and show the reader what it's like in there. 
  • To read with ease.  Make sure your writing is clean: grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, etc. Use an editor if you’re uncertain of your skill. Don't use words that are too extravagant for the audience you are writing for.
  • To enjoy a burning question (or questions). Think about what a reader will be asking herself upon oping the book - there needs to be a burning question that will keep the reader wanting to read on to find out what happens next. It doesn’t need to be a major ‘whodunit’ kind of question, just something the reader wonders enough about to keep turning those pages.
It's great to have a hook, but don't hang everything on the hook ;-) A good opening sentence is fantastic, but don't neglect the rest of your work while dwelling on this. Make sure your cover, title, blurb and opening rock, and then go on and make the rest of your work sizzle!

Killer openings have voice and share something important about the scene, setting or protagonist that draws the reader in.
From left to right: Just Perfect, The Catcher in the Rye, Water for Elephants (click image to enlarge)

** This post is based off of the post 'Popular Question - Compelling Openings in Fiction' by Joan Dempsey, as shared in her amazing *free* newsletter. If you are a writer wishing to improve your craft, I do suggest subscribing. (And while you're at it... have you subscribed to this blog yet? ;-))

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