Sometimes I spend so much time on beginnings that I just don’t know when to stop.
It’s debatable whether the beginning of a story is the most important part—but at the least, it’s the part that hooks your reader, the part that gets him or her to read more, to want to read more, and maybe even buy your book (or represent you, or pick up your manuscript, or whatever it is that you’re looking for).
Beginnings tell us, your readers, what to expect from you. Not everyone is interested in the type of book you write. For example, my mom would never find herself hooked on a fantasy book. That is not a bad thing. You don’t want to try to tell my mom your book is a mystery thriller if it’s actually a fantasy book, because she’ll read a little bit further and just be disappointed.
1. Be honest what you’re about. If you like to write stream of consciousness, tell us right away. Make it good, make your impression fast, and make it interesting, for god’s sake!
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
–The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Bam. Suzanne tells us right away, in her very first paragraph, what her book is all about. We know two of the main characters instantly. We know how Katniss narrates. We know this is a no-bullshit story and we’d better be prepared for that. Now we’re wondering: What is the reaping? Why does it terrify her sister? Getting your reader wondering is the key to The Hook (write this one down, it’ll be on the test).
2. Jump right into the action. Let’s be honest about the YA audience: they have a shorter attention span than most. They want the juice (the reason to keep reading), and they want it now. Doesn’t matter how you juice it, honestly. Start with a fight scene if your book has fights. Start with a sexy scene if that’s your audience. Like this:
“I’m dying,” said the voice. Dusty clutched the phone.
-first line of Frozen Fire, Tim Bowler
Tim knows how to start out a thriller, let’s just put it that way.
3. Last but not least, work on your first few pages a lot, but not too much (the mistake I mentioned at the beginning of this post). As I said in #1, you need to be honest with your reader about your writing style, your storytelling style, and your characters. If you work and work and work those pages to impress a reader or an agent or a publisher, you’ll find yourself with a stellar intro and a manuscript that just can’t match. Make sure that you use your intro as a chance to learn.
You want to write a page-turner. The way to do that is to take what you’ve learned from your intro and apply it to the rest of your book (this is the juice to which I was referring). You want your reader to not only buy your book, but also to never put it down. You want your reader to rave about it to his or her friends. Find those moments that ratchet up the tension or play the harpsichord of your readers’ heart strings.
Just remember to fill your book with juice and you’ll do fine.
Then the light from the streetlamps began to dim. With each step, the path was harder and harder to distinguish. I wouldn’t make it to the buildings in the distance before everything went dark.
Armed with a spurt of adrenaline I tried to run, but my legs had suddenly become too heavy; I was rooted to the ground.
Then the night enveloped me.
–Fire and Brimstone