There’s a certain amount of irony inherent in the fact that I am writing a blog article about great beginnings…and I can’t find a way to start for the life of me. I’ve tried everything by this point: impersonal facts. Frightening editorial tales. Definitions. I even tried drumming up a few bad jokes to get the ball rolling.
It was a dark and stormy cliché.
It was the best of submissions, it was the worst of submissions…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a busy editor in possession of a spare moment must be in want of a manuscript.
And so on.
A good beginning is important. No, I’ll go a step farther and say it’s vital. While a title and a good cover may be what draw a reader’s eye, the first paragraph of a book is what keeps her from immediately putting the book away. The same holds true for editors, except in our case there is nothing but the cover letter and those first few words to get us interested. No handsome men and no kickass women posed with werecoyotes howling in the background—just the bare bones of the very best beginning you can manage.
Each editor has his or her own way of dealing with external submissions. Some faithfully read three chapters all the way through before making a decision. Some read only until the first typo. Some read the first page.
And, of course, there are some editors who will only give you that first, vital paragraph. That leaves it up to you to impress them, interest them, immediately. That leaves it up to you to come up with a truly great beginning.
There’s a catch 22 in this, however. While it’s important to start your story off with a bang (whether it be with an interesting question, an exciting event or an irresistible character), it’s all too easy to fall into the beginner’s trap of crafting that perfect opening line…and not following up with a story that matches. Or, even worse, to put so much emphasis on the opening line that it may as well be waving flags and shooting off fireworks. You do need a hook to capture my attention, but you also need it to fit your story. If your first few lines are a promise to the reader that you’ve got something worthwhile to say, the rest of your book is a delivery on that promise.
So, to recap: the hook of your story is vital to getting it read, getting it sold and getting it to as many readers as you can. But beware of the temptation to put so much into the hook that it no longer fits within the meat of your story. You have to deliver on the promise of that first line and offer not only a great beginning but a great middle and end as well.
That said—who has a first line from their own book to share?