We writers spend so much time over openings. This post over at the Mad Genius Club made me think about openings.
There is the first paragraph,which has to sparkle so much it grabs the jaded editor and then it has to grab the fussy reader, browsing through the bookstore. (How important is the first paragraph when a reader can download the whole novel instantly, often for free?).
These opening chapters have to set up the world which is harder for speculative fiction writers because even a Dark Urban Fantasy writer’s world has different rules from the one we live in. Holly Lisle has some tips on getting to know your world here.
I tend to let the world grow as I write. I trust myself to do this because I’ve done a lot of reading on sociology and anthropology. In fact the real art is not to introduce too much world building. The writer reveals only what the reader needs to know, as they need to know it.
These opening chapters have to introduce the characters and make the reader CARE about them. This is terribly important. If your reader doesn’t care why would they keep reading? This is where Holly Lisle talks about bringing characters to life.
There’s a saying, have your character save the cat – meaning have them do something likable. I’d say, even if the character is doing terrible things, the reader will like them if they are doing these things for a good reason. So make your character’s motives powerful, make these motives something the reader can identify with.
Rather than constructing characters, I tend to throw them into conflict and see what they do. This way I get to know the character as the reader gets to know them. This has the added bonus of putting the character is danger which raises the Worry Factor as I call it. The more your reader is worrying about the character, the more they are going to want to keep turning the pages.
These opening chapters have to introduce the conflict. If you throw your characters straight into trouble, then you’ve already introduced the conflict. By the end of the first two chapters (depending on the complexity of the plot) the reader should have a good idea what the driving force of the conflict is. Holly Lisle covers conflict here, both internal and external conflict.
So this is why opening chapters are so important. I often find that I’ve started too late and have to go back to write more before the original opening. Do you struggle with beginnings?