June 10, 2011
Start Your Story Strong - Bonnie Way
Author Larry Brooks agrees with me on this point. In his book Story Engineering, he argues that "the most important section of your story is the first part of it. If you've ever started reading a novel or screenplay and then put it down after an hour—and who hasn't—you know this to be true."
Today's readers, accustomed as we are to the instant nature of everything, from fast food to high speed internet, don't have the patience to sit through a novel that opens slowly. When the novel was actually novel, authors like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy could take their time setting up characters, backstory, mood, setting. Now, many readers dismiss eighteenth and nineteenth century authors just because it takes so much "work" to get into them. (You have to read much further than Brooks' recommended 50 pages to really become interested in Bleak House or Little Dorrit.)
While I know that a Dickens novel will be worth the effort of getting past that slow start, I might not give a new writer that same chance. And when it comes to my own writing, I know that if I hope to sell my novel, the first part had better be good. That's the part the editor is going to see first. The part the reader might skim in the bookstore before buying the book.
So how do you do that? Create interesting characters—characters who leave us wanting to know more about them, like the three very different sisters in Angela Hunt's The Fine Art of Insincerity. Ask a question that demands an answer, like what happens if scientific experimentation results in a girl who has wings, as Sigmund Brouwer does in Flight of Shadows. Set some high stakes, like the crown two brothers each desire to inherit from their father in the recent blockbuster hit Thor.
What novel has grabbed you from the opening pages and kept you reading until the end? Or what novel have you put down because it failed to hook you?
~ © Bonnie Way (aka The Koala Bear Writer)