Thursday, July 7, 2011

You Have To Hook Us

I want to take some time today to talk about the first chapters of your book. Before I do, I want to stress once again that there is no right or wrong way of starting a book. Prologues, dialogue, narration, action and so forth all work in different situation. The key is to find the right beginning for your book. Do not (I repeat) DO NOT assume only one approach works.

As we all know, the opening pages of a story are beyond crucial for the success of a book. The reason is simple. Readers do not have patience to wait around for something good to happen. I don't know how many times I have received a comment from a writer I rejected after reading just the first part of their book complaining, "If I had read the whole book, you would see how amazing it is." Ahh, I love that line. Why? Because I know good and well that those complaining writers probably have a ton of books they haven't finished because the beginning just wasn't there for them.

The key is to find a way to hook the reader. You want the reader to have a "buy in" to the things you have to say in your story. This "buy in" can actually come from a lot of different things. Maybe you have a great scene that makes the reader think to something that has happened in their own life. Maybe you have some witty dialogue that makes you want to know more. Maybe it is a bit of an information dump that draws us into the situation and story. The key word here is "draw us in."

Your job as a writer is to find a way to suck the reader into the story. We want to be part of the story and not simply sitting on the outside looking in. By doing so, we will feel the pain and joy of the characters. When they are hurting, we hurt. The stronger the connection you make with the reader, the easier it is to convey the message of your story. Wordsworth once said, "there is an implied contract between [the] author and reader." In your case, the contract is a promise that you will entertain and make them part of your story.

I bring all of this up because honestly, the desire for any editor or agent to read more of your project, amid all of the other stories that cross our desk, relies on your ability to make that connection early on.

Now, does that mean we will give up every time? Absolutely not. There are times that I have read a beginning of a story and thought "maybe there is something there."  So I read the synopsis and see where things are going. If there is that "something" there I might ask for more. Does this happen a lot? Not really, and the simple reason is that the beginning of the story is just mediocre.

Find a way to go off the blocks with a bang! Make it good. If you do, you have increased your chance the reader will want to see more. Of course, with that said, you now have a new challenge. Make the remaining chapters even better.



  1. I do agree that when a book doesn't hold my interest with the first few pages I don't finish it. In all truth, I toss it aside or skim ahead to the end.

    About beginnings, I do have to say that some agents will reject a manuscript if it starts with a prologue. I've heard it's just a matter of preference.

  2. I always strive to grab the reader from the first chapter. To me, that is the most crucial time. Sure, you have to hold their interest, but if you can't capture it from the get go, they won't make it to the middle. Now if I could just get someone to read it! LOL...I have a queries in the water, and I'm hoping one will hit the mark. Until then...I'm still writing!

  3. I'm willing to give it half a chance to fulfill its promise. But this would be only from my viewpoint as a reader. Someone said it has to start out with the action and keep us engaged with the action. And I said, "Hand me the xanax."