I have yet to write a book which has the same beginning that I’d planned. Several things make the start of a story very important: do the first lines catch your reader and drag them, maybe kicking and screaming, into your manuscript, is the action compelling, did your story begin in the correct spot?
First lines should set up questions. Our reader’s curiosity needs to be sparked. Now, those first critical sentences should be in keeping with the tone of your story and not put in for effect. One of my favorites:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
Of course, we want to know why, and the rest of the story attempts to prove this hypothesis. If you’re writing a mystery, that hook had better have all the intrigue you find in your book.
First lines are fun. Just ask your characters.
And while you’re at it, you might chat with your hero and heroine about what is important in their lives. Conflict both internal and external should appear in your book’s beginning, or the reader won’t really care. We only feel compelled to read on when something is at stake. Something we can relate to as readers.
You can have beautiful prose, covering all the senses and describing your characters, but without conflict, motivation and goals you don’t have a story.
Of course, the problem may be that you’re trying to feed us too much information and your beginning isn’t compelling-it’s confusing. Are you using too many names, trying to tell us everything because you think the readers won’t understand? Trust your readers. They’re very bright people, and if you don’t give them all the information now, you’ll still have fodder for that sagging middle
Of course, you may have started your story in the wrong place, or tried to put all the information in as internal thought. If in doubt, dialogue is always better. When you have two people who want different things, their interaction will create tension. And our stories are all about tension.
This was the problem I had in “Highland Yearning.” I’d been editing, when I realized my first six pages were internal dialogue. Now I’d read it to my critique group and they’d liked what I’d written, but everything really popped when I added dialogue.
If something feels flat or isn’t compelling, try something new: switch POV, add dialogue, bring in a character to show something about your hero and heroine. Trust yourself. If something doesn’t entertain you, it most likely won’t entertain your readers.
Have you changed the beginnings to your books? I’d love to hear what you did to make them better.
Coming Soon: Highland Yearning
What happens when a self-reliant heroine with the last name of Sutherland meets a Highlander who detests anyone from that black-hearted clan? Ariel’s best friend is her dog, Scruffy. They travel back in time to the Highlands in the year 1775. Together, they turn the hero’s ordered life into chaos.