Three of the most important elements of what you want to accomplish as a writer can be summed up from what I learned in high school English class: Look, Hook and Took. You want to begin your book with a compelling reason for your reader to “look” at your story. Once you have their interest piqued, you want to “hook” them through great dialogue and action. Your opening paragraph(s) should jump out at them, causing so much interest that they want to read further. This will hopefully result in them buying your book – the “Took”. Let’s take a look at a few steps that can help you achieve your goals in the first couple pages and chapters of your story.
Usually rambling paragraphs of beautiful descriptions is not what a reader looks for when he opens a book. What really casts the spell is your characterization. Establish a goal or desire for one character quickly. Don’t give away too much of the book in the beginning; you only want to tantalize. You can choose the main character, or a secondary character, but make certain that the description causes the reader to want to move forward.
Now that you’ve introduced your reader to a character, “hook” them with some action. The first line of my book, “The Trouble With Charlie” reads, “He watched her. He enjoyed watching her.” After that I introduce the heroine, but not as much of a physical description, but with her actions and personality. This scene must make the character believable and want your reader to find out more.
I chose the setting – Los Angeles – because I’d vacationed there and it suited my character’s lifestyle. It also made it easier to develop a realistic backdrop and provided the reader with enough detail that it was believable. Of course, you can set your story in a smaller locale (as with my second book), just keep the writing interesting and invest in your characters. Remember, it’s not just the place, but how the place enhances your characters, that move your story up a notch.
So the next time you begin your novel or short story, remember what will give your book an advantage with an audience. Develop your character’s personality and aspirations, create action that moves the plot forward, and provide believable settings for your story to evolve. Ultimately this will result in enough interest for a sale (the “Took”) and hopefully a new fan!