Dwayne Clayden – FIRST AID 4 WRITERS – weekly writing tips for authors wanting to bring accuracy to their writing and realism to medical, police, EMS and disaster scenes.
They look at first line, first page, maybe the first ew pages – if you don’t hook them by then, you’re book will be in the slush pile
The first page has to create a pop-up book effect – first lines need to be powerful
Great openings – to amuse, frighten, mystify but NOT confuse – propels the reader into the story.
There re thousands of classic opening lines – are some of them great or have they been quoted so often they have become great. e.g., call me Ishmael – raises a lot of questions that could stall a reader if they begin to dissect the words…some years ago – never mind how many precisely….does the reader care?
Now, readers are fast food consumers – you have to draw them in fast and even if there are questions, they keep reading to find out why. BUT if they are confused, they. May flip back a bit but if it happens to often, they’ll give up.
Writing conventions have changed – Tom Clancy used to spend 80 pages describing how a submarine works. Now, the reader can Google it.
Attention-Grabbing opening lines – Lee Child. “The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot” – Persuader.
– Sometimes there is a writer we admire and we look at their work and think how good it is. BUT check out their first novels and you’ll see their craft was not as finely honed. As time went on, they built a following…
This is the promise to your reader – are you setting the bar too high, especially if it is not possible to maintain the intensity. Easier to do in movies; hard to do in a book.
It’s not just about the first line but the first paragraph. Not just the first paragraph but the first page. Then the first chapter. First chapter should be about the protagonist; the second should be about the antagonist.
WRITE THE NOVEL FIRST
The same intensity of thought applied to the opening sentence should not be confined to the opening line but rather to the novel in its entirety.
Once the book is done, then look at the first line, first chapter, etc.
– Think about the first line in your novel or the last line but don’t agonize over it.
– How many times did you rewrite that line? What would your manuscript look like if you sent the same amount of time over every line?
The last line
Often overlooked – the hook at the end of the paragraph, page or chapter is often overlooked.
Think about how to keep the reader engaged by using hooks at the end of the chapter. A strong closing hook propels the reader into the next chapter or at least hit him so hard he has to come back to the novel as soon as he can.
In the TV show Batman, each episode was set up so that there was no way you could wait to see what happened the following week. It wasn’t just the inescapable situation Batman found himself in, it was all the pieces beforehand that led to the ending.
Start with your protagonist
– Readers want to know right away who is the protagonist – they want to be in their head and bond with them. Who do we need to cheer for?
– Start telling the story from your protagonist point of view
– Readers stay because of the characters
– Stay in the protagonist POV
Make us care – a hero we want to root for, with inner conflict and baggage, sympathetic, interesting, charismatic – the flaws are what makes them interesting and engaging. BUT BE INNOVATIVE – DON’T RELY ON OVERUSED TROPES – the alcoholic cop, etc. We need to see hopes, dreams, worries and fears.
LET THEM BE SEEN AS VULNERABLE
Situate us right away. Give the reader a date, a place, some sense of their context.
Introduce tension and conflict right away.
What does the protagonist need or want/
Why cant they get what they want?
Who, what, where, when, why?
Put them in hot water
Show how they react
Readers need to empathize in order to bond with the protagonist – doesn’t have to be desperate
DON’T ON THE FIRST PAGE
– Don’t start by describing past events
– Don’t have the protagonist reflecting on events or someone in the past
– Don’t start with the protagonist alone
– Have at least one other character interacting with action, sharp dialogue and some tension
– Don’t start with weather
– Don’t start with something mundane – planning their day, planning a trip, on the way to somewhere important
START IN A MEANINGFUL WAY
Dialogue is very important – moves the action along
NO MIRROR DESCRIPTIONS
– Have your protagonist study themselves so the author can introduce detailed descriptions
– How often do we actually think about the colour of our eyes
– Work in a few detail by reflecting what they are thinking, their attitude, interactions with others or others interactions with them
Lee Child – “We are story tellers, not story showers”. There is nothing wrong with saying a character is six feet tall, with scars.
Introduce a love interest or villain early
– To add to the intrigue in a romance, introduce the hero
– In a thriller, bring the villain early
Don’t take chapters to introduce the main conflict or problem
Write an inciting incident or at least some significant tension early
Put character in action, in tension, in conflict
Start with your story – don’t fuss about the opening until the editing page
The First FIVE Pages
– Most agents or acquiring editors, like readers, will stop reading by the fifth page if they are not engaged quickly
– Remember the hooks and conflicts
– Some new writes fight the rules, but they have to be very good
Why do agents reject a story?
– They need to know what the story is about right away
– What is the conflict
Does your story do the following?
1. Grab the readers attention
2. Introduce a character readers will care about (know them inside and out)
3. Set the story’s mood – first page is a promise to the reader about what is to come
4. Establish the storytellers voice
5. Orient the reader to the world of the protagonist and enable them to picture it (if the world is different, set it up and make sure the rules are clear)
6. Lock into the genre
7. End in a way that is surprising and satisfying