This is all about the “F” word.
No, not THAT one
In case you think this is a lesson in The Art of Lovemaking, sorry, folks – maybe at a later date…
This is all about seducing your reader, luring them into your story so that they won’t—can’t—put your story down. We’ve all experienced it – that beginning to a story that immediately captures your imagination, involves you, sucks you into the story so that you’re halfway through before you realize the hours have flown by. Isn’t this what every author wants to achieve? Gaining that immediate commitment from their reader so that they want to devour your story?
So, how do you do it? How long do you have? If you’re thinking the whole of the first chapter, think again.
Think about it. Ladies, imagine you’re with a very hot, very sexy man. You’re hoping for a little—or a lot—of wonderful, mutually satisfying sex. But instead of seducing you, making you want what he’s offering so that you can’t say no, he wants to talk to you. Nothing wrong with talking, but there’s a time and a place for everything. No, just then you don’t want to hear about his first girlfriend, his mother, his uncles, how his parents got together, what he ate for breakfast… When that starts, he’s lost you, hasn’t he?
This is how it is with a book. As a reader, but particularly as an editor, I want to seduced straight away. Don’t let my interest cool. Make me tingle. Make me gasp. Keep me focused on your story and your characters. I begin reading your submission with high hopes. I liked the synopsis, was captured by the blurb, so don’t lose me on the first page. Those first few pages are critical. If you want me to stick around for the main event, in this case, the rest of your story, compel me to keep reading. Seduce me into wanting to read more, to go deeper, all the way to the climax.
What prompted my ruminations on this topic was a post by Toni McGee Causey on the Muderati blog: http://murderati.typepad.com/murderati/2008/10/the-con-of-the.html . Titled “the con of the art”, Ms. McGee Causey talks about how to write a good beginning to a story, and she’s absolutely correct—
The opening to a novel is all about seducing, capturing the reader with just the right tone, the right shift of the body, so that they lean in a little. Tell me more.
The beginning of a story used to be difficult for me, until I realized what it was all about. It's not about the set up, or the backstory. It's not about the world or the place or the weather. It's about titillation. Potential. It does not have to be about understanding, yet. The whole "they have to know this thing happened back then in order to know what that event means" scenario…
I read a lot. Part of the job. And I’m shocked by how often I come across stories that start with a backstory info dump (so often slipped in under the misnomer of “Prologue”). I don't NEED to know the whole backstory to understand enough to know if I want to continue reading. In fact, a lot of—most—times it has the effect of switching me right off the story. Why do I lose interest? When too much backstory or the annoying info dump are laid on me, I'm instantly aware that I'm reading a STORY. Okay, admittedly I am, but for me as a reader to become involved, I need to be able to shed the "this is only fiction" mindset and embrace the world, the characters you the author are presenting. For the space of that book, THAT needs to become my "reality", even if it is fantasy, or paranormal, or science fiction. The second I begin to think “It’s only a story…”, I’m not involved in your story or your characters. An essential skill of an author is that ability to lure readers to submerse themselves in the world and characters they're creating, without them even realizing. That's what fiction is all about as opposed to non-fiction. That's the escape fiction stories offer.
So, yes, I want to be seduced. Straight up. First few pages or less. I want to be sucked into that reality that isn't my own. For just a little while. Giving me the who is who, where they are, what went before, and why this is so, is NOT going to do that for me. And if you give me so much information that I feel as though I need to take notes to keep it all straight (and THAT happens more often than you’d believe), we’re in trouble, baby!
Remember, foreplay and seduction—that’s what the first few pages of your story represent. And they’re arguably the most important in your story. They can be the difference between a request from the editor to read the full manuscript, or a rejection letter.
Leave the backstory for later—seduce me first. It makes the climax so much more satisfying.
Good examples of great beginnings can be found in the following Ellora’s Cave books: Joey Hill’s Natural Law; Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man; Jory Strong’s Trace’s Psychic; Robin L. Rotham’s Alien Overnight; Gail Faulkner’s Full Ride.
Or for books of a more mainstream nature, see 9 Great Ways To Begin A Novel: http://research-writing-techniques.suite101.com/article.cfm/9_great_ways_to_capture_a_reader