A strong opening will grab readers

Many readers, whether in a shop or on Amazon, will make a decision about whether to buy a book by reading the first few pages. If you’re lucky, they read pages. They may only read the first few lines.

And if you are seeking traditional publication, whether through an agent or acquisitions editor, your first few lines must be brilliant to set you apart from all the other manuscripts on those desks.

A strong opening hook pulls the reader into the story.

There are several things a novel’s opening can do. It can, among other things, reveal character, set the tone for the book, give a flavor of what the conflict will be, or show the setting. If you can do two or three of these things at once, go for it. But beware of trying to do too much in a short space. You want to intrigue the readers, not give them sensory overload. Continue reading

Find the right starting point for your novel

Figuring out how to open your story is difficult, because there might be any number of “right times” to begin your story. But in the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist I have avoided phrasing things in the negative, so rather than saying “don’t start at the wrong time,” I put it this way:

The story begins in the right place.

This item is on most editor’s checklists because one of the most common errors we see is two or three chapters of prelude—sometimes more—before the story reaches an engaging starting point. As a freelance editor, I can tell you to delete these chapters to move that point up to the beginning. But if those chapters are present while you are seeking traditional publication or self-publishing, you may not hold the attention of the acquisitions editor or reader long enough to make the sale. Continue reading