For my second post about whether your manuscript is ready for publication and the value of a three-chapter evaluation, I would like to discuss the opening chapter more commonly referred to as ‘how to hook the reader.’
When I am not writing I am an avid reader. If you fail to grab my attention in the first few pages, I am not going to read any further. Here are a few things I find annoying in the opening of a story:
Irrelevant information. Most novice writers feel they have to tell the reader everything about a character – known in the industry as backstory. The first few paragraphs are crucial. Introduce your protagonist, but only impart important information.
Introducing too many characters. Readers don’t like to be bombarded with too many characters in an opening chapter, and definitely not if they have similar sounding names. Keep it simple at first, and give your readers a change to know who’s who in your story.
Dialogue. Please don’t start your story with dialogue unless you identify who’s speaking and to whom. Otherwise, we won’t know who is speaking or why we should be interested in them and what they have to say.
Description. Nothing turns a reader off more than a first page filled with reams of description. More is less.
Dream sequences. Daphne du Maurier may have got away with it in her novel Rebecca, but publishers now frown on novels that open with characters dreaming or awaking from.
We buy books to be entertained, to be drawn into a story as if we are standing in the room watching the action take place. Here are a few examples of these ways to hook the reader from the opening sentence.
- Begin at a pivotal moment. Start at an important scene in your story, and the reader is more likely to continue reading.
- I’m unbound now. My wrists and ankles burn from the straps.’ Speaking in Bones Kathy Reichs
- Make the reader ask a question. What is going to happen?
- The whole affair begin so very quietly. When I wrote, that summer, and asked my friend Louise if she would come with me on a car trip to Provence, I had no idea that I might be issuing an invitation to danger.’ Madam will you Talk Mary Stewart.
- Honor Donovan took one look and knew the man was trouble. Amber Beach Elizabeth Lowell.
- Create an interesting picture. In other words, allow the reader to imagine the scene in their minds.
- ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.’ Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier.
- ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.’ Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte.
- Introduce an intrigue character. Leaning more about a character draws the reader into the story.
- I was arrested in Eno’s diner. Killing Floor, a Jack Reacher novel Lee Child.
When you start your story, always keep your readers in mind. Think about what makes you keep reading a novel – what makes it compelling – consider employing a similar technique.
For more information on how to hook the reader, I recommend you read Hooked, by Len Edgerton.
In my next post, I will discuss plot and conflict.
For more information about Victoria’s 3-Chapter Evaluations: