7 Reasons Why Your Novel's Beginning Is So Critical

I recently had the honor of being named as a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest, and had two days in which to make changes to my entry to resumbit for the finals.

That
was a tense two days, as I agonized over every word, every sentence and
every paragraph (and for that matter--every comma). My entry consisted
of a one-page, single-spaced synopsis and the first fifteen pages of my manuscript.

The
whole process underscored for me the importance of the first few pages
of any novel. Here is the monumental task that a writer faces when
beginning their manuscript:

1. Story Problem/Question

Every
story has to have one. If your story doesn't have a problem or
question, then what are you writing about? Why should the reader want
to turn the page to find out what happens next?

2. Character's Desire

In
order for the reader to connect with the main character, they have to
understand what he/she wants. In my story, the character's desire is
the story problem, but I don't think it has to be in every story. What
do you think?

3. Hook the Reader

I
can usually tell if I'm going to like a book within the first few
pages. Sometimes when I force myself to keep reading, I'm finally able
to be drawn into the story. But most of the time it never happens. The
books I can't put down are the ones that capture me from word one.

4. Connect the Reader with the Main Character

For
me, this is closely related with the character's desire. When I can
connect with the character via an understandable desire, I'm hooked.
But it also involves more. Is the character likable? If he/she's not
likable, is there a good reason why? Do I care about the
character--sympathize with him/her? Do I enjoy the character's
personality? Is there something about him/her that I can relate to?

This
was probably the most difficult thing for me in writing my own novel.
The author walks a fine line between leaving room for the main
character to grow by showing their faults/issues, and making them
likable enough for the reader to connect with. There is very little
wiggle room between a self-pitying, whiny heroine, and a heroine who
has experienced tragedy after tragedy and is having difficulty getting
past it.

5. Set the Tone of the Book

This
was difficult for me as well. I wanted to show my main character as
someone who had faced a lot of challenges, but I also wanted the tone
of the novel to fun, zippy, humorous and romantic. Very tall order, but
not impossible. The author really needs to know what kind of tone to
set from the very beginning, or you'll end up with a mishmash of tones
that confuses the reader.

6. Establish the Story World

Understanding
where the story is taking place is crucial. When the stage is set for
the reader, it lends an air of credibility to the story--makes it more
real and lifelike. This is true whether you're writing romance or
science fiction. Without setting, the characters float around with
nothing to connect them to reality.

7. Establish the Conflict

Every novel needs conflict. Donald Maass, author of Writing The Breakout Novel,
says that you need it on every page. It's a necessary ingredient on the
first few pages for sure. Without it, the story is flat and boring. The
conflict needs to be both internal and external.

Now it's your
turn? Can you think of other things that need to be accomplished on the
first few pages of a novel? Let me know in the comment section.

NEXT POST: Never Too Old To Learn

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