Friday, September 2, 2011

"If You Would Just Read The Whole Story..." Umm, no!

We talked yesterday about how important making that first impression is for a new author. The same goes for the opening pages of your story. You have to come off the blocks (yes I am back to swimming comparisons here again), with a story that really sucks us into the characters lives and their world. These opening pages are not the time for endless pages of backstory dumps or character descriptions that will likely die off in the next couple of chapters.

Honestly, think about this as a reader. How many times have you picked up a new book only to find in the opening pages you weren't hooked. In all liklihood, you dumped the book and went on to something else. The same goes for editors and agents. When we read a project, we are thinking along the same lines of the reader. Is this something that really draws us in. Yes, we might think there are things we can fix, but it is that initial first read that has to bring us into the character.

So, what is it that we are looking for in those opening pages? No, it isn't just a single witty line. We are looking for movement to get the story moving. It doesn't have to be the action of the story, but something that sets up where this story might be heading to. We're also looking for some great character development early on. In most cases, you will start with the protagonist and if that is the case, we have to really like this person. Sure, there can be flaws in the character but they have to be someone we can relate to and at least sort of like.

There is a tendency to unload a pile of backhistory and world building in those opening pages. While this is certainly information that needs to show up potentially in those early chapters, it doesn't have to all come out on page 1 of the story. You will simply bore the reader. Yes, it is important and yes we do need to know it but not all in the first page.

Remember that we have never seen this before. We don't know what is going on or who these people are. You know the information because you have been with them for several months now, but we haven't Read your story from the standpoint of someone who is really coming at this fresh. Even someone who might not read your genre. Is this something that will draw them in or send them running? That is your test.



  1. I've been known to stop reading a book after the two pages so, yes, hooking the reader is a must. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  2. One of the nicest compliments I received was when someone told me that they wanted to know what happened next after they read the first chapter. The first chapter is a really scary make it or break it deal, and yet you find books scattered all over with "Prologues". How does that happen?

  3. Excellent point Scott. We get so into our own heads with character, plot line, etc. that happen later in the story, that it's easy forget to step back into "reader" shoes. I can see where this would help put things back into perspective for the author.