I started reworking my first manuscript a couple weeks ago. Like many of you, I poured out a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over that piece of work. I spent five years of my life trying to take an idea and package it into an entertaining publishable piece of work. I thought it was great, and it was a great premise. I just couldn’t seem to pull it all together and make it work.
A few months ago I started work on a new novel. I love it. Everything about this new piece of work is better than my first attempt.
The biggest difference between the two is the opening. I started the first novel in the wrong place. Like many newbies, I thought I needed to add some backstory prior to getting into the ‘real story’, so my reader would understand my characters and be able to follow along.
Well, you do want your reader to understand what’s going on, but you dribble in the backstory as you go along. You can’t put it all upfront.
You may have an amazing story, but you’ll lose your reader before they get to the good parts if they are having to muddle through the character’s history (my mistake) or description overload of the setting. Prep work doomed my first story before it even got started.
Below are the opening paragraphs of two novels I’m working on. Which one gets your attention from the very beginning and makes you want to know more?
A cool breeze swept over Josh’s face tousling his too-long hair across his forehead and into his eyes. Brushing the dark strands to the side, he stared out at the glassy water with only one thought on his mind. Laura. He would be going to Afghanistan in a month and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Six months wasn’t that long, but it seemed like an eternity right now. (The first chapter gives you a picture of Josh’s life and that of his identical twin Jacob before they meet in Afghanistan – something I thought the reader needed to know to put the story in context.)
“I’m sorry mother, but I have no choice. Papa, I know you would be proud.” A soft smile crossed Ariel’s lips as she pulled up her baggy knee pants. She didn’t have time to dwell on the last few days or mourn her father’s death. She had to get to Southampton and to the safety of her godfather’s home. If Pierre thought he would steal her virtue and force a marriage, he didn’t know Ariel Dubois as well as he thought. ( This opening pulls you into the story from the very beginning. You want to know what happens next.)
Don’t take too long to get to the inciting incident, or incident that sets your story in motion. Grab your reader’s attention from the beginning by starting your story in the right place.
You need to ask yourself, what is the absolute latest moment you can begin your story without leaving out anything critical to the story problem or character goal? (Jane Friedman)
Something to think about.