In the last post we looked at what sorts of things you might include at the beginning of your story to get it off to a good start and I suggested some decisions you might make. Before we go on to look at more things you can do with beginnings, I want you to consider your reader:
Problem: Why do I have to worry about my reader right from the beginning? Won’t they just follow where my story takes them?
A readers eyes may skim the first page before they close the book again. Whether they put it back on the shelf or want to keep reading, will depend to a large extent on what you offer them.
Readers are a big deal. They buy your book, read it and translate your words into meaning. They are one half of a contract between you. So….
Decide what your story promises:
You are making an emotional and cerebral promise to your readers that you will absorb them. Do you plan to bring them romance, thrills, entertainment, a quirky world or teach them something? Think about what sort of promise you will offer from the beginning. Keeping it in mind will help you to deliver it.
Your side of the bargain:
Imagine that your readers are passing a window and are drawn by what is happening in the room behind it. This was already unfolding before they got there and will continue after they have gone. Your job is to hold them there, to suggest what happened before and what might happen later and, in the meantime, to allow them to witness something interesting enough to keep them glued to the window until that particular drama has come to a close and allows them to walk away.
Decide what sort of reader you want to write for: As with many things, your story will provoke mixed reactions. Some readers will love it and some will be unmoved. It will mean different things to different people as they bring their own beliefs and experiences to it. You can’t enthrall everyone, so decide who you are writing for and do your best for them.
Let your writing be an invitation:
You want your reader to read on, so offer them lucid, controlled, interesting and credible prose, so that they look forward to joining you on this journey.
Leave room for your reader to enter: You are inviting your readers to accompany you to a place where they will enjoy themselves. You are going to take them to meet characters, introduce them to places, show them what’s happening. If you forget their presence and just consider yourself and your characters, you may forget that you need to keep them involved. Have them always at your shoulder, wondering, asking questions.
Describe an event in a paragraph or two and then write a letter to a friend describing the same event. You should notice a difference in your prose; your awareness of an audience.
Let readers do some of the work: Readers are intelligent people, so don’t feel you have to spell out everything for them. Suggest, give pointers, let them complete some of the story for themselves. I read somewhere that stories provide outlines that readers colour in with their own imaginations. They prefer not to have it all done for them. (We will come to this again in a later post)
Now that you have some ingredients for a good beginning, have made some decisions and discovered that you need your reader on board, how do you hold their attention and suggest your story is going to be worth their while?
Next post – How do I grab a reader’s attention right away? It is best that I use something dramatic or shocking? ?