All writers have their own writing methods and styles. Regardless of how we write, though, every novel has a basic structure. It comes in three parts: the opening, the middle, and the end.
While all these parts are important, the opening is the most important. If our first sentence or paragraph doesn’t hook readers and draw them into our story, they’ll likely put down our book and look elsewhere for entertainment.
One common mistake beginning writers make is “throat-clearing.” In novel-writing, it means loading the opening pages with lots of information—backstory, description, and/or too many characters, for example. It’s coughing up words before we actually write the story.
When writing openings, think about a favorite movie. What was its opening scene? How did it hook us? I mention movies because they’re one of the main mediums we authors are competing against. Of course, we must also consider our favorite books. Study their opening lines. How did they motivate us to keep reading?
The best opening is the action opening. It begins in medias res (in the middle of things). These openings can start with something spectacular, such as an earthquake, or something seemingly innocent such as a knock on a character’s door. It can also include dialogue. We must either see a character in action or hint that something is about to happen. Also, be sure to mention your character(s) names as soon as possible.
In my book due out this coming fall, 2019, Squire, Tales of a Mascot, I didn’t “clear my throat” by writing lots of narrative background information and description while building up to the main story. Instead, I jumped right into the action. Here are my novel’s first two paragraphs:
“Well, I’d sure as sand say he is going with us.” Jesse Webb sauntered down the steps of his father-in-law’s brick furniture store.
Rachel Webb folded her arms, her billowing hoopskirt spanning the slatted walkway in front of it. Her hazel eyes narrowed. “Oh no, he’s not. Besides, how could you take the most popular dog in Coughlin with you? What if he gets killed?”
I did four things in these opening lines:
1. I introduced the main characters—Jesse, Rachel, and their dog, Squire.
2. I identified the setting, the town of Coughlin.
3. I showed conflict between Jesse and Rachel.
4. I hinted at future danger for both Jesse and Squire. A few paragraphs later, we’ll learn what this danger is—Jesse and Squire are heading off to war.
So, let’s not “clear our throats” before we begin our story. Instead, jump right into it and hook our readers from the start.