Similarly, the right beginning sets the foundations for a gripping climax.
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The conclusion of the book should be foreshadowed in the first scene, though of course the reader will have no idea how on first read. Using this technique, the author can clearly demonstrate how the protagonist has changed. Of course, not all books start by grabbing you by the eyeballs. You will be able to find many examples of books that take a while to get going, and that have beginnings that plod rather than spring from the starting blocks. Some of those books became classics before there was so much competition there are around 34 times as many books published each year today than years ago.
Others may be books written by already established authors. These writers have already built up a credit bank of trust with their readers, so have the luxury of being able to break the rules if they wish. Their readers already know their investment will be rewarded. This is a simple but powerful idea that asserts that if someone likes the first breadcrumb, they will take a step towards the next one and give that a taste too. If the reader likes your first sentence, they will probably read the first paragraph.
Look at each of these parts of your opening in turn, and try to work out whether there is enough in each incrementally larger subsection to entice someone to read the next. Credit for this concept goes to Christopher Moore, via Chuck Wendig. Below are five key objectives to focus on in your opening, with examples. Note that these items can and should overlap.
If you can make a single sentence fulfill several of these goals, then it means your words are extra effective. Does your character live in a cupboard under some stairs, or in the Museum of Indian Rural Art? Is your main character a murdered teenager? Did their grandmother just explode? Or has the school gym been turned into a dormitory? Check out this great resource analysing amateur writers' opening sentences. Time and place can be established through description of surroundings courtyards, parlors, chamber-pots style of writing "a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages" and names of the main characters Jean-Baptiste Grenouille or of other historical figures de Sade, Bonaparte.
Two more subtle aspects of setting are tone and genre. These are interwoven with time and place, and should also be established in the same way. The reader wants to know if this is the sort of book that appeals to them.
Step 1: Nail-down a winning story idea.
Is it quirky? Whatever it is, they need to know within the first few pages, or preferably the first few paragraphs. Showing a character suffering from undeserved misfortune makes our heart go out to them, because we can imagine ourselves in the same situation, and how we would feel. Similarly to undeserved misfortune, if we see a character under threat, we may worry about them.
We tend to like people who are kind and warm-hearted, even if they have many flaws. In a similar vein to being masterful at a particular skill, a character may have mastery over their own presence. Human beings are naturally curious and generally like to be challenged. When raising questions in the reader's mind, it is possible to fall into the trap of withholding information that simply confuses the reader. If your reader cares about the character, but that character is not facing any kind of conflict or threat, then the reader can comfortably go off and make a cup of tea without having to worry.
By showing their everyday conflicts. A good writer can have us on the edge of our seat over catching a bus, or finding a pair of glasses. You can show them facing frustrations that they deal with on a regular basis. Perhaps they work in a job they hate with a leering boss and rude customers. By opening with minor catastrophes, you also leave scope for ever-increasing challenges and peril, which will eventually make these everyday conflicts look like small fry that they could gobble up in one gulp. A lot of people say prologues are a disastrous way to open a novel, to the point that if they see one, they refuse to read on.
However, there is a time and place for a prologue. Dialogue has immediacy and it is more likely to show the situation and character than a description. Getting into dialogue early is good practice. A part of empathizing with a character and needing to know what happens to them is knowing what they want, and wondering whether they are going to get it. However, what a character wants is often not the same as what they need — and finding out whether they get what they need can be even more compelling.
For example, a character may want to come first at the triathlon in the Olympics. But what they need is to feel loved by their family, whether they win or not. Even fantasies must make sense. Once the reader has accepted your premise, what follows must be logical. Effective research is key to adding the specificity necessary to make this work. When my character uses a weapon, I learn everything I can about it. Add specifics the way you would add seasoning to food.
The perspective from which you tell your story can be complicated because it encompasses so much. The cardinal rule is one perspective character per scene , but I prefer only one per chapter, and ideally one per novel. No hopping into the heads of other characters. What your POV character sees, hears, touches, smells, tastes, and thinks is all you can convey.
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Most novels are written in Third Person Limited. That means limited to one perspective character at a time, and that character ought to be the one with the most at stake. First Person makes is easiest to limit yourself to that one perspective character, but Third-Person Limited is most popular for a reason.
One example: the main character hears what another character says, reads his tone and his expression and his body language, and comes to a conclusion. Then he finds out that person told someone else something entirely different, and his actions prove he was lying to both.
How to Start Off Your Novel So Your Readers Keep Reading
It means avoiding too much scene setting and description and getting to the good stuff—the guts of the story. The goal of every sentence, in fact of every word , is to force the reader to read the next. Your job as a writer is not to make readers imagine things as you see them, but to trigger the theaters of their minds. They give a private eye a nice car, weapon, girlfriend, apartment, office, rich client. Rather, you should pull out from under him anything that makes his life easy.
Have his car break down, his weapon stolen, his girlfriend leave, he gets evicted, his office burns, his client is broke. Now thrust him into a dangerous case. He can have weaknesses, foibles, flaws, but they should be identifiable, redeemable, not annoying or repulsive.
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The once-reprobate lover who has become a changed man, loving fiance, falls off the wagon the night before the wedding. Caught red-handed doing drugs and drinking and cavorting with another woman, he sees his true love storm off, vowing to never speak to him again. Imagine the nadir, the low point, the bleakest moment for your lead character. Your ability to do this will make or break you as a novelist.
This is not easy, believe me. The Bleakest Moment forces your hero to take action, to use every new muscle and technique gained from facing a book full of obstacles and prove that things only appeared beyond repair. The more hopeless the situation, the more powerful your climax and end will be. The ultimate resolution, the peak emotional point of your story, comes when your hero faces his ultimate test.
The stakes must be dire and failure irreversible. The conflict that has been building throughout now crescendos to a final, ultimate confrontation, and all the major book-length setups are paid off. In the original version of the movie, the scene felt flat. So the filmmakers added the fact that the Death Star was on the verge of destroying the rebel base. Reward their sticking with you and let them see the fireworks. A great ending :. Take your time and write a fully satisfying ending that drops the curtain with a resounding thud.
How long it takes you to be happy with every word before you start pitching your manuscript to the market is how long it should take.