“Get that goddamned freak out of here!” In Darkness Reborn by Alexis Morgan
William jolted awake as an orgasm rolled through him. The Irish Devil by Diane Whiteside
I stiffened at the red and blue lights flashing behind me, because there was no way I could explain what was in the back of my truck. Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Three different books, three different writers and yet everyone of them set their hook in me in the first sentence. I had to continue reading to find out what happened next. As a writer that’s your job, what your publisher expects from you: to set your hook and play that reader until they finish the book.
So how do you do it? Every author has a theory or method to do it. One of the best quotes I’ve heard – and unfortunately, I don’t know who to thank for it. “Enter the scene later than you think you should and leave before you think you should.”
Too many new authors spend the first chapter or two giving the backstory. I think of it as the story is a tree. The trunk (main plot), limbs and leaves (Character’s and subplot) are what the reader sees. But as the author you see the roots. Where the character was before page one. What shaped their lives and led them to the point they are in that first sentence.
An opening chapter has ten components:
1. Inciting Incident
2. Story worthy problem
3. Initial surface problem
6. A stellar opening sentence
The first three are primary considerations. If you don’t have a story worthy problem why should a reader invest the hours to read your book? Inciting incident, something has to get the ball moving. Initial surface problem maybe it’s the heroine needs the hero to come with her or fix her tire or the list is endless.
Wait, back-story is number 4 and I said back-story is bad or did I? Back-story in and of itself isn’t bad but it needs to be given in small bites. You don’t shove an entire hamburger into your mouth you take bites of it and that’s how you need to handle backstory. A smidge here, a dash there and by the end of the book your reader knows the characters. Les Edgerton says it best - “The single biggest fault of most writers is that they don’t trust the reader’s intelligence to “get” what’s going on without providing lengthy backstory.” Trust your readers! They will reward you with loyalty.
Each chapter has a hook too. Don’t put your character nicely in bed at the end of a chapter. Your reader will nod, yawn, close the book and go to sleep. Think of the last book you read that you couldn’t put down. Now go get it. Look at the end of the chapter. See the little cliffhanger? That’s what you need to do.
Now since I always like to leave you with resources:
Hooked: writing fiction that grabs the readers at page one and never lets them go by Les Edgerton