Sound familiar? I hear this pretty much every day. And from folks just thinking that maybe writing would be fun, all the way to multi-published authors wrangling with a new book idea.
Starting a novel can be a bear. Those embarking on this writing journey most often just don’t know how to begin a book. And those who’ve been traversing this path for a while know that, well, the beginning is so very crucial to the book’s success. Which just means luring people in to actually read further, in the way you’d attract a trout to fly.
The opening pages are everything. Especially when it comes to getting that agent to take a look. Then the agent being able to convince an editor to accept a submission. And of course, to draw in readers so they don’t move on to the next free Amazon pages.
Which holds true whether you Traditional or Self-publish.
You have to grab the reader by the throat in a way that he can’t stop. In oh, about five minutes.
You must fashion those words on the page, those people in a compelling scene, with just enough tease to entice everyone to turn the page.
A bit of a daunting task.
And I’m not big on ‘have to’s or ‘must’s.
But this is one reality of the book business that no one can ignore.
The company line from agents and book editors is that they read the first fifty pages of a manuscript before deciding whether to accept it. Which is pretty much an inside joke. Because they’ll ‘fess up at conferences that they really only read the first ten pages or so.
And behind closed doors, they admit to only reading page one.
Yikes! But the reality is, if you don’t grab them there, you don’t grab them anywhere.
Then of course the next pages have to keep them engaged or they quit anyway.
This is one of those truths that new writers employ when saying that’s why they’re going to self-publish in the first place. Those dastardly agents and editors just don’t give a book a chance!
But the deal is, if you can’t tantalize a jaded agent or editor, you’ll not be able to attract a mass of readers either.
Agents and editors are jaded in part because they’ve seen gazillions of books. And, they know that if words aren’t spectacular on the page—from the get go—readers will go elsewhere.
So the stakes aren’t high or anything!
What’s a writer to do? What’s the secret of how to start writing?
The closely guarded secret is:
But, what about all the above? I thought the opening held the keys to the kingdom?
It does. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be perfect, or good, or even decent when you start. All that comes far further down the road.
Beginning the novel encompasses one main (albeit multi-faceted) point: Finding out who these people are and what the heck they’re doing in this story.
And it may take you fifty pages to sort through all of that.
In fact, that very often occurs: You’re fifty pages in before the characters click and the story takes off.
I see this all the time. That first long section clangs and glugs along, vague characters growing slowly more distinct, a story becoming more defined, and finally, finally, finally, they all take off as one.
And that’s where the book begins.
Writers are often horrified at first with the prescription to lose those fifty opening pages. Or sometimes more. All that writing! All that building of character! All those beautiful scenes!
Yep, they may get axed on the editing-room floor. Or, pieces may come back in later, via flashback perhaps, or a carefully placed sentence here and there.
But the point being, all of that initial material was for you, the writer, sort of like author’s notes about people and plots.
Which also means all that work is never wasted. You’ve learned who the Protagonist really is, no? What the point to his story is. Where it’s going from here.
All of that is vital information—for you, the writer. Now you know the folks much better and more deeply and can evoke them on the pages with far fewer words.
Your reader is trusting you to give her only those bits that are important, which build the character as he goes through the events of the story. All the rest is background dressing.
So how do you begin a novel? Just write. Doesn’t matter where you’re dropping into the story, or with whom. Just write.
And once you’ve finished the first draft, then we go back and tackle the opening. Then and only then, we make the beginning spectacular.