Today has been a very good day. Today I have managed to finish another 3,000 words and it is only 3 pm! Not bad, not bad at all. By way of a reward, yes I do need to reward myself, I have started on the chocolate. Lindt chocolate with hazelnuts to be precise. Now 4 squares in, I’m starting to feel a bit sick. I love chocolate but it must be said I am a light weight. The same is not true of wine. Wine deserves a blog post all to itself! I digress, now where was I?…Ah yes, today has proved to be a good writing day. If I had to sum it up in one word I would say ‘hooked’. Yep, that’s what I want my readers to be, hooked from the very beginning, in a way that is entertaining and keeps them turning the pages. Managing hooks and the expectations around them are never far from my mind. I worry a lot, about pretty much everything, but I especially worry about the beginning of a book and how much to reveal straight up. Are the first few pages interesting enough to warrant continued effort? Have I revealed too much too soon? It is a dilemma, a happy dilemma to have, but only when you get it right!
If you don’t get the beginning right nothing will fit correctly. Hooks are, in my opinion, inextricably linked to the first few pages. Of course, they feature throughout your story especially in thrillers and suspense novels. However, it is the beginning which will set the tone and pace, and push your story forward. You know when you’ve got it right because everything slots into place. Like a good solid jigsaw puzzle, the whole picture starts to emerge as each piece is placed correctly. Today has been a ‘placing the pieces correctly’ kind of day and I am over the moon.
I want my readers to open my first page and be transported into a personal version of the world I’ve created. Today my 3000 words flowed with ease because I reworked the beginning. Yep, I went back to the beginning, red pen and all. Earlier this week writing had been a struggle. I sat, looking at a radiant blank screen. It remained blank for the whole day! There was nothing for it but to go back to the beginning and try to figure out what was going on, and that’s when I realised some of the pieces had been misplaced. I shifted around a few key sentences and rearranged those opening lines and viola! Success!
You get one shot and one shot only at asking readers to invest their time and emotions into your book. They will want a return on that investment. Your opening is your big reveal, you do not want to disappoint. Being able to fulfill your readers’ anticipation and carry them with you as the story develops is the most amazing feeling, as I said, you do not want to disappoint. If you lose a reader at the beginning it will be hard to pull them back, first impressions really do count! So with that in mind, I have put together a few questions that I asked myself when I faced the dreaded blank screen! Challenge yourself and ask yourself the same questions, you may find they help you complete your own puzzle. Sometimes you have to write the opening last, sometimes you have to write it or rewrite it midway through, as in my case. Whenever you turn to the opening, make sure you give it your full attention.
- Have I grabbed the readers attention within the first few paragraphs?
- Have I grabbed them firmly or is it more of a gentle nudge? ~ If it’s a gentle nudge rewrite.
- Is the opening talking to the readers I’m trying to attract? ~ No good telling them about lemons when the rest of the book is about pears!
- Am I showing or telling? ~ Show, always, no telling…
- Is there emotion? ~ Are my readers able to feel the pain, anger, happiness, envy, love etc.
- Is my narrative voice compelling? ~ Can readers connect to my protagonist’s voice.
- Why here? Is the starting point a pivotal moment.
- Am I intrigued, do I want to know more?
My favourite opening lines are from Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, what’s yours? Please leave a comment below I’d love to know!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
2 thoughts on “Opening Lines… Getting Hooked!”
Great article! I agree, the first few pages of any story are the most important, and the most difficult to write! Your 8-point list is spot on, and very useful for writers. I’m glad to say, I could tick all of them off for my current novel, phew!
I won’t say that a bad opening puts me off reading the rest of the book, but it does lower my expectations. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised, other times not so much.
And there’s nothing better than Lindt chocolate after a hard day’s writing (except maybe Cadbury’s chocolate, but that’s another story!!)
Thanks Helen, yes you’re right if the opening isn’t strong I agree it really does lower your expectations of the rest of the book. Ah Cadburys yes… emmm!!!
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