While starting off slow and easy is generally preferred with most things in life, it is the opposite when it comes to a good book. Readers want complete and total immersion from page one! It’s a tall order.
I admit my book starts off slow. I wanted to build tension and let the reader experience what my characters were going through. I was dropping little hints every few paragraphs which I liked, but readers weren’t catching it. This is not a beginning that will keep a reader interested long enough to get to the best parts of the story.
How do you know if your story starts too slow? Here are a few things that tipped me off in my story.
- I had query rejections which said ‘the pages didn’t pull me in,’ stab to the heart. The Agents liked my ‘premise’ and the plot was ‘intriguing’ and that’s where the compliments ended, ouch.
- While I did start out with dialogue I realized nothing important was being said in it that I couldn’t put elsewhere, later in the book. Think of it this way, what is the one thing the reader has to know about your character that makes them different from all the other things they have read. Start with that part of your story.
- There must be some action. More is preferred. Starting off with internal dialoge or setting the scene can be done. But the vast majority of books start with action. Think about a movie, if it started with a girl sitting in a chair thinking about her past life would you be interested? Maybe, but odds are no. The interesting things are going to happen in the future not the past. So keep the backstory for later when you’ve got the readers hooked.
- Lose extra information. Readers are on a need to know basis. If they don’t need to know it right now then it can wait till later. Much later if need be. Let the readers understanding of your character develop through the whole book not just the first few chapters.
If you’re like me, you are staring at your first chapter and thinking I can’t fix this! I need all this information in here to get the reader in the right mindset.
- Cross out all your backstory. I’m not saying delete it. I’m saying cross it off the print out and see what you actually have to work with. You can take all the backstory and sprinkle it into chapters two and three later. This includes any flashback and prologues (Agents don’t like prologues I’ve noticed).
- Find your action. This can be dialogue, a decision, or a suspenseful moment it depends on your story. Find it and put a star next to it. This is where your story starts and if there are paragraphs before that point consider moving the beginning of your chapter to your action scene.
- Now make your action moment better. Here are some ways to add action:
- Cannibalize your story. Not literally. Take a detail from later in the book and move it to the beginning. In my story it added a level of suspense and surprise my current version lacked. It didn’t take away from the story later, in fact, it heightened the scene later because the reader knows about it and wants to avoid it.
- Make backstory current. Maybe your character has a flaw that occasionally relapses. That relapse could be very action packed, use it.
- Revisit your dialogue. What is the purpose of the dialogue you currently have?
- Setting the scene. Important for fantasy/sci-fi but less for modern works. Ex: “Look at the pretty stars,” should be “watch out for that asteroid” see one is passive and the other is active.
- Telling backstory. Again this can probably come later unless it effects the plot right now. Ex: “I failed flight training,” while flying a plane.
- Developing Character. Important as long as it moves the story forward. Ex: “I’ve always been a good thief, except for today.”
- Moving the plot. This is the ultimate place you want to be. The sum of everything should be always moving the plot forward. The other option is stagnation, not action. Ex: “Forget the stars, lets make-out.”
- End it on a cliff. The end of the chapter should not be a pretty package with a bow. It should be a gift bag where the paper is slightly loose from the wind and you are dying to peak inside. What else does that author have in here?
Do you have any tricks to adding action to your first chapters? Were these ideas helpful? Let me know your thoughts, it’s great interacting with you.