This is a series of posts for aspiring writers, established authors, and anyone inbetween. To take a look at what goes into a novel before, during and after it is written. Please feel free to comment if you have helpful advice that will contribute to making this post more beneficial to everyone out there. Or, post a question and I’ll try to find an answer!
You’ve got a plot, some of you have an outline. A character sketch, perhaps. But now, where do you start?
I wanted to post on hooking the reader because I’m becoming more and more convinced that, in this day of instant gratification and in-your-face opening lines or paragraphs in books, readers just aren’t willing to wait around for a writer to convince them they can tell a good story.
I’m guilty of this myself. If I start reading a book, laden with Stephen King doses of description and Austen proportions of building a scene, I have trouble making myself continue. (Unless, of course, it’s an Austen book, in which I’ll snuggle down and read it over and over again. You can’t touch the classics.) If I am not drawn into a book quickly, however, I have been known to set it down. Most times I return to it, but sometimes I don’t.
We readers want a good story and we want it now! That’s not to say all readers will dismiss a book solely based on opening chapters, but I’ve noticed more and more of late readers want a story over craft.
Samuel Goldwyn said, “What we want is a story that starts with an earthquake and builds to a climax.”
There is a great debate these days about what sells more books, story or craft? The craft might suggest to us we create our setting, introduce a place, the weather, our characters. That we establish a nice little background for the story before we actually jump into the story. But if we’re simply going for the story, readers expect a jump either right into the action or right into the mind of a wonderfully interesting character.
And the lack of this is the basis for rejections of many of my manuscripts in the past. I used to like to take the safe route. Build a foundation on which to start telling my story. You know, write all about the pretty trees and the fluff of clouds that billowed over a distant knoll. And on and on…But I truly believe what many readers want is what comes after all that building. I still struggle with it but I am learning.
If you have a strong voice, I believe you can start off your book however you like and still manage to draw a reader in. Not all new writers have that, however. I know I didn’t. And I would suggest to them to hook your reader as soon as possible. The first few pages of your novel might be what do or do not land you an agent or a publisher. And an agent does not have time to read four or five chapters to see if you’re eventually going to tell a good story. They’re going to want to know it almost right off the bat.
So hook your reader! Introduce a conflict or a strong opinionated MC who likes to make life difficult for those around him. Begin in the middle of an action scene or a humorous argument or debate. Or give a brief background for the story and then move on! You can add in details as you go.
So what do you think? Is good writing enough to keep you reading, or do you need to get drawn in quicker than a few chapters into the book? Will you put down a book you’re reading if it doesn’t interest you or will you keep going to see if it gets better?