We all know that the most important part of writing a novel is to engage the reader because at the end of the day if they are the slightest bit bored they are either not going to buy the book in the first place or put it down part way through. I am about 6,500 words into my new YA novel with a goal to complete it by the end of the summer. I have blogged about my prewriting activities and now it is time to take a look at the novel’s start.
Advice on how to write the all important beginning of the novel is everywhere. Here are just some of the tips I have found:
1. Prologues who needs them? Many professionals will tell you to dump the prologue. They have studies or first hand knowledge that most readers skip the prologue and go right to the first chapter. I don’t do that but perhaps I am in the minority. I have not written a prologue for my current novel in progress because I did not feel it needed one but I do not mind a well written prologue that sets the stage for the novel.
So when is it okay to write a prologue? I say if your novel does not start in a natural place in the grand series of events about to be laid out before the reader, you have tried to avoid back story in chapter 1 to no avail and the information is vital and intriguing then go ahead remove it from chapter 1 and turn it into a prologue. Also, I think prologues work really well for myth based stories when the original myth is told as part of the prologue.
2. Write a good opening sentence. It should hook the reader and make them want to carry on reading. Many writers do this by creating an action scene, applying a shocker or a bit of a drama. I agree these could all work as great hooks but are they necessary?
Sometimes something more subtle works too, such as in the opening line of The Great Gatsby by F, Scott Fitzgerald, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” It does not imply action, it is not shocking and there is no real drama going on but I wanted to know what that advice was so I carried on reading.
3. Cut out the back story. This is the mistake I made with the first novel I wrote. It is full of back story right from the start. It has a load of information dumped in right from the beginning and I know it is boring. The novel is still salvageable with plenty of rewriting and editing but it is not saleable in its present state. So instead of making that mistake and having to rework things later try to avoid it in the first place.
So here is the first draft version of my first paragraph:
There was still ten minutes until the final bell of the school year rang and if I hurried I could be out of the building and on my way home well before then. I slammed my locker door shut and hoisted my bulging backpack over my shoulder. I eyed the hallway up and down, all was clear. I chose to turn and head in the direction of the side exit, that was my best chance of escape. I made long strides, kept my head down and started walking.
Is it strong enough to hook a reader and have them wanting more? How do you try to hook your readers?