Once upon a time, stories opened with a section of what I’ll call setup. In the first few pages, or at least few paragraphs, the author introduced the reader to the main character and the storyworld. Then, the real story would begin.
This formula has gone the way of fairy tales. The society we live in today is one of instant gratification. Almost unanimously, readers expect to be hurled into the action of the story. Action is king when it comes to starting a story that grabs the reader’s attention.
Even more than just action, the opening of a story must deliver something unique or at least a different spin. It was a dark and stormy night, will get you nowhere with today’s reader.
So how do we deliver an effective opening without leaving the reader with nagging questions? These guidelines will help you craft a compelling first page and propel your reader into the midst of the action.
- Give the reader enough of the setting to anchor the storyworld.
- Introduce the main character through the action, dialogue and internal thoughts. This is critical because it’s when the reader begins to sympathize with the character.
- Hint at what is at stake in the story to come.
When deciding how to open your story, be sure take genre into account. A Suspense book will generally start on the run, while a Romance needs to have a meeting between the hero and heroine. In a Mystery, the opening is . . . well, mysterious and in Fantasy/Science Fiction, more time is spent on the storyworld. The best way to determine the norm for a genre is to study books currently on the market. Here are some I like.
The way I see it, life is a jelly donut. You don’t really know what it’s about until you bite into it. And then, just when you decide it’s good, you drop a big glob of jelly on your best T-shirt.
Ten Big Ones
By Janet Evanovich
I’d been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
Dead Until Dark
By Charlaine Harris
Keryn Wills was in the shower when she figured out how to kill Josh Trenton.
By Randall Ingermanson
I’ve given you three of my favorite openings. Now it’s your time to share. What are some openings that have reached out and grabbed you?