"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Novel Beginnings (First Sentences, First Paragraphs)

We, as fiction writers, face a great challenge to please today’s impatient readers. We have less than seven minutes to capture them and keep them reading our novel. In other words, our first three pages must hook the reader’s interest enough to make them spend the several hours or more our book demands of them.

First sentences of any writing are important. Does it convey an interesting personality or action that will lure the reader to read on? Can it be made more intriguing by introducing something unusual, shocking, or surprising to the reader? Does it create a mood, state the theme of the novel, or foreshadow a major event in the story or tell the end? Does it challenge you to reveal as much about the main character--in one sentence? A terrific sentence on page two or three won’t help if the reader never gets there.

The opening paragraph should make the reader curious about an exciting character or a relationship, a dramatic situation, or introduce a setting, or a combination of all. It should also enhance the story.

First words of a novel are the trigger of curiosity--the “narrative hook”, and suggest the kind of book it is. An intriguing opening is the easy way to capture the reader. Another way, more leisurely, is to seduce the reader through omens, giving the reader a feeling something is going to happen.

There are many ways to arouse the reader at the start of a novel: a character wants something important, wants it very much and wants it now; or a likeable character can be threatened. We must get the reader involved in a character who is more interesting than most of the people who surround us in life (Blue Sage Fiction Writers are excluded from this category). How to do that? Best bet is to start with a scene that the reader can see--and start that scene as close to its climax as feasible to involve the reader quickly.

Push yourself. By experimenting lies therein the chance for true brilliance.

--Sandra Lord
Sandra spent the early years of her life in Washington. Graduating with a B.A. degree from Washington State University, she worked for thirty years in the nuclear industry as a technical writer/editor. She is published in nonfiction (newspaper article and co-authored technical reports). A long-time resident of Idaho, she is now retired and writes mainstream fiction. She has completed a military novel.


  1. So true, Sandy. Those beginnings can make or break a book sale. And, if by some fluke it manages to get published anyway with a slow beginning, many a reader will not be fooled.

  2. Wow, seven minutes! Those opening pages are the ones I'm most concerned about getting right.

    Great tips!