Friends often recommend books to me with the caveat, “It takes a while to get into it, but it’s worth it.” I’m not against a challenging read, but why would an author make me wait fifty pages to get me interested in what they have to say? If it’s a great book it should have a great beginning.
There are three ways you can start your book that will have your reader continue reading. The first is using a hook. Take the first chapter in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s titled The Boy Who Lived. Before we even get into the text we’re asking ourselves ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ Then there’s the opening paragraph,
Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Strange? Mysterious? What things are these? By enticing your reader with questions you have a better chance that they will continue reading.
Let us know what the humongoloid problem is and why we should care about it. Audrey Niffenegger does a great job with this as The Time Traveler’s Wife begins,
CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.
Shortly after we learn that Harry cannot control his time traveling abilities and is always disappearing against his will. So we have Clare who loves Henry and Henry who loves Clare but it always vanishing into different times. Can they save their marriage? You’ll have to keep reading to find out.
Tension is an especially good tool for keep your reader turning from the first page to the second and third. Philip Pullman opens his novel The Golden Compass with,
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.
I’m not going to lie. The rest of the chapter falls a bit short. (It presents a lot of exposition which we will talk about in a later post). But it’s an effective first sentence. Lyra is sneaking. She could get caught. What would be the consequences? Where is she going and what the heck is a daemon?!
Whether you use first person or third person, whether you start with narrative or dialogue, make the reader want to keep reading. That’s your beginning. That’s your way in.