Why do the first 10% and the last 10% of your book deserve far more than attention than what you give the remaining 80% of the story? That doesn’t seem fair.
Especially when we look at those lucky writers who are continuing various series which already have millions of fans. THEY don’t need to worry about making their next opening and closing incredibly wonderful!
Nope, drat it, that task is solely for authors who want to grab brand new readers from the very first paragraph of a book -- and then leave 'em so satisfied with the ending that they’ll immediately buy whatever this author writes next.
Boffo beginnings are the most effective way of ensuring that anyone who glances at page 1 will keep reading…and reading…and reading.
What else keeps them reading?
Sure, they might ALSO continue through the story if their best friend insisted “you’re gonna love this book even though it seems kind of dull at first.”
Or if the cover model looks so much like their dream hero that they’ve got to see what happens.
Or if they’re stuck on a six-hour flight and have already finished their only other reading materials.
But why go after readers like those? It’s better if you can get their best friend insisting, “I couldn’t put it down,” because that way they’ll keep reading no matter how short the flight is or how uninspiring the cover model might be.
Regardless of what got a reader started on your book, it’s ideal to have someone take in the first sentence
…then the first paragraph…and immediately want to keep going.
That means you’ve grabbed 'em. You’ve found the right answers to questions like:
- Which is more entertaining, dialogue or narrative?
- Which is more engrossing, action or emotion?
- Which is more engaging, characters or situation?
You probably already know what works best for drawing YOU into a story you want to keep reading…or writing.
How can you build on that interest and make it even more compelling?
Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a boffo beginning.
Think about the books whose opening you still remember vividly.
It’s surprising how often people can quote the first line of something they read years ago, and yet how seldom they can describe an entire opening scene.
Yet it’s the first scene, not the first line, which will keep your readers moving onto Chapter Two.
So what does your first scene need to do?
- Tell the readers what’s going on, or just give them a hint?
- Put us right in the viewpoint of a major character, or open with a secondary character in a more dramatic situation?
- Reveal what’s at stake now, or save that news for when the character learns it?
And once the main character/s and their plot are introduced, you’re still not finished with the beginning. In order to make sure the reader won’t turn away once they’ve reached the first scene break, you need to establish:
- What kind of action we can expect
- What kind of emotion we can expect
- What the overall tone will be like
- How much dialogue and description there’ll be
And, most important of all:
Why these characters will stay interesting
- Is it their mission / goal?
- Is it their personality / motivation?
- Is it their situation / conflict?
- Is it all three?
Your blend will be different, of course, depending on the story you’re writing. Your audience will have its own expectations, and they need to feel confident you can deliver the kind of experience they wanted when they picked up your novel.
That’ll be your job throughout the next 80% of the book, which -- although it’s what keeps 'em reading -- doesn’t count as part of your opening or your closing.
But speaking of closing, let’s move onto the fabulous finale.
Are you keeping the promise of the beginning?
That’s only the first question to address, but it’s a big one. The reader who picked up your book might have had some generic expectation of “a cozy mystery” or “a historical romance” when they opened to page 1, but your beginning promised a lot more than that.
It promised a certain level of tension, from relaxing to nail-biting.
It promised a story that would keep this reader engrossed all the way through.
It promised some compelling twists and turns, whether gentle or abrupt, before the final chapter.
It promised a world that the reader would enjoy discovering more of, whether the setting is comfortably familiar or excitingly different.
And it promised a style of story telling that resonated with this person -- something they already know they love, or something that has them anticipating a whole new discovery.
You delivered all of that with your beginning.
So you need to deliver it with the ending, as well -- plus whipped cream and a cherry on top.
There are tricks for accomplishing that, both in your opening and closing. But rather than get into a whole two weeks of material, let’s look at the openings and closings you’ve liked especially well.
Because that’s the prize-drawing question.
Someone who sends in a description of whatever made some book’s first or final words (whether a sentence or an entire scene) resonate with them will win free registration to Boffo Beginnings & Fab Finales at WriterUniv.com, starting a week from Monday.
So here’s your chance to share with other WITS readers:
What comes to mind when you think of a story whose opening you loved?
What ending made you want to read every single other book this author has ever written?
I’ll draw names from the next 24 hours’ worth of comments (even if you can’t decide on your favorite beginning or ending) so I can notify the winner tomorrow morning.
And I’ll look forward to hearing the names of some old favorite books along with some new TBRs!
After winning Romantic Times' "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing…if not more. Since then she's taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who've developed that particular novel in her classes. With 43 titles there so far, she's always hoping for more.