The most important thing to do when starting a new book is to grab the readers’ attention from sentence #1, so they cannot help but continue to read. Book buyers frequently open the book to the first chapter and read the opening page. If it doesn’t interest them within a few sentences, the book goes right back to the shelf. Can’t you picture your own hand grabbing a novel, reading a few lines, and instantly putting the book back where it came from—because the initial paragraph didn’t grab your attention? You must have an exciting opener.
Writers may ask, “But what about setting? Backstory? Character development?” All of those elements are very important, but your reader won’t read far enough to get to them if your opening lines are weak. How likely would you be to buy a book if the first paragraph you read was nothing more than a description of the weather? It’s amazing how many self-published novels begin in this uninteresting way. Your description of the setting might be creative and well-written. Yes, that thunder and lightning may foreshadow something exciting or dangerous to come, but without introducing your reader to the characters or the plot conflict first, who cares about the weather?
Your main character and the essence of the plot must make their entrances right off the bat. Please take a look at the first paragraph of my second novel, SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS (Teen Mystery Press, November 2014) with these thoughts in mind.
I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.
After reading this paragraph you already know the following facts:
- The story is written in the first person, and the protagonist is about to start middle school, so she is 12 or 13-years old.
- She is going to experience a monstrous, life-changing event during this book.
- It starts in the next half-hour, so you—the reader—won’t have to wait long for the action to begin.
- She’s about to get involved in a dangerous mystery involving a missing person, a hidden fortune, and a threatening group of adversaries.
The more conflict and tension you can introduce on the first page, the more likely potential readers will be to buy your book. Save those tasty descriptions of your setting for later. Start your first chapter off with a bang!
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