Have you ever thought about what makes a good novel? So you are in your local library or bookshop and if you are anything like me, you try and read the first chapter to see if the book grabs you or not!
If it doesn’t grab you then it’s back on shelf and you are looking for the opening chapter that does. Well, this is my point. Especially true if you are one of life’s bookworms, just like me.
So you are about to start your book or you have made a start. How do you know where to start this long story of fiction? Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of your prospective readers or target audience. Incidentally, when you submit your work to an agent or publisher there is a good chance they will ask you about your target audience. It helps with the marketing of your novel. Don’t forget book publishing is a business!
Anyway, I’ll now come to the point. Start your novel at a crunch point. Show your central character in some sort of dilemma, or the lead up to a dilemma. You want to set the scene for the rest of your novel, but it is crucially important to hook the interest of your readers. Don’t forget to employ as many of the five senses as you can get away with. See this blog entry The 5 Senses and Fiction Writing.
If you are writing a crime/suspense/mystery fiction novel you might be inclined to open your novel just after a crime has been committed. Here you can show the police team making their initial investigations and asking questions, essentially getting really busy doing their job. You might want to introduce your central character at this point as well.
Or you could try opening this novel with your bad guy/girl about to commit a crime. For instance if your book is about an abduction you could open it with the victim having a great day before their plans are ruined…
The Horse Whisperer
I remember reading the opening paragraphs of the debut novel, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans (1997). You can picture the scene. I am in my local supermarket and I naturally wonder over to the book section, not looking for anything in particular. I see this book listed as a Number One International Bestseller! So of course I flick through and start reading the first few paragraphs…
I was hooked from the beginning. Apart from being well-written, I found The Horse Whisperer intriguing and engaging. The opening paragraphs describes the young protagonist (Grace) as she wakes up on the morning that is about to change her life forever… I hope I haven’t given away too much of the plot here.
In fact The Horse Whisperer ranks as one of my favourite ‘openings’ and one of my favourite books (check out my post The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans: A Book Review
This is the thing us writer types should be aiming for. Don’t give book buyers the excuse to put your book (yes, that book you stayed up all night to write) back on the shelf! Choosing your book out of the many should be a compulsion driven by a captivating first chapter. And if you can make your novel original in some way, even better!
Good Luck and enjoy the journey!
Until next time, happy writing, S