Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Print out your first chapter, store it in aluminum foil and freeze it.

The best writing advice I ever got, which helped me get published the first time, was when novelist Lawrence Block said, “Throw away your first chapter.”

Most first novelists waste time extensively setting up and describing the scene or explaining the main character's background before finally getting around to making something actually happen in Chapter Two.

By urging me to toss Chapter One, Block was telling me to start on the action. Start with something happening.
(He must have been right because my book was published.)

Lots of beginners start their books with extensive description or long character profiles, but that’s boring to a reader who wants something to happen right away.

In my experience as America's first online writing teacher, I discovered that many new authors try to jam too much material into the first chapter. Telling everything about all the characters in the opening pages is not necessary. In fact, you want to avoid giving all the facts and laying all the groundwork early in the manuscript. Doing so makes life very difficult for the reader who is trying to grasp what your story is about and how the plot elements and the characters fit together.

Readers have a tendency to memorize nearly everything they read at the beginning of the book, thinking it is going to be important to following the story. Although you know what the manuscript is about and what is important to remember, versus what is a just embellishment, the readers are clueless. As a result, they try to memorize everything.

Most of the things you think you need to set up matter only to you. Readers don’t give a damn. They want the story to get moving. So start it. If you must, you can always drag in some of that background and description later after your reader has been hooked by the story.

Work to keep the opening of your novel clear and simple. After your readers are settled and familiar with the plot and the main characters (somewhere around the second and third chapters), then you may begin to layer information and fill in the background.

Keep the opening simple and catchy.
Like, for example, the first sentence of Darker Than Amber, one of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books: “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.” 

Makes you want to read more, doesn't it?

Here are another examples of how to hook a reader.
From Frederick Forsyth’s popular thriller The Day of the Jackal, here is another kind of hook opening:
“It is cold at 6:40 in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”

Search your novel’s first few pages and see if you can’t find some kind of action scene to put at the beginning of the book. Or at least start with someone interesting. Hook the readers with something interesting, and never let them go.

From NOVEL SECRETS (paperback or Kindle)

Lary Crews