How important are the first few paragraphs of your book? Consider this: Each week, hundreds of submissions flood into any given publishing house’s inbox. Reading each manuscript in its entirety would take too much time, and with pressing deadlines it simply cannot be done. So your opening lines might be the only shot your book has of making it into the next round of reading. Here are three tips for beginning your book with some knockout sentences:
Choose Your Venue!
Having a unique, unfamiliar setting will give your novel a wow factor right from the start. Opening your story in a world your readers have never encountered will keep them curious enough to read more.
But if your story starts in a living room, no sweat! Even an everyday setting can be captivating if there’s something unexpected about it. Use your character’s point of view to focus on details in the room that the reader may not have noticed on his or her own. The crumpled letters on the coffee table, the stained curtains by the open window; use elements like these to intrigue your audience.
Starting your book with an interesting setting -- whether it’s on a distant planet or in a local diner -- will quickly immerse readers in your story.
Come Out Swinging!
Your opening sentences need to connect with the reader -- and fast. One of your best bets is to start in the middle of the action or conflict, a technique referred to as in medias res (in the midst of things). This is a particularly effective approach because it allows you to show off your character’s strengths and weaknesses by beginning with an intense or important situation. Is she brave, courageous, and selfless? Maybe he is sinister and complex? By shifting away from a long, drawn-out introduction and instead beginning your book in the middle of all the activity, you’ll be sure to have readers anxiously turning the pages.
However, don’t introduce too many characters in your first few paragraphs. Focus on one character, and then bring in others only after your first character’s actions have been established.
Now that you’ve grabbed your readers with those crucial first sentences, keep up the momentum! Your opening paragraphs aren’t meant to answer in-depth questions about your character. Instead, keep your readers’ attention by raising more questions about your characters, plot, or setting. Maintaining momentum will carry your story forward. Your first lines shouldn’t float like a butterfly -- they should sting like a bee.
Having the right opening combination of setting, action, and impetus will give your book the strength to propel readers forward into your story -- and successfully move your book further along the submission process!
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