Thursday, January 29, 2009
In three weeks I'll be at the Christian Writer's Guild Conference, teaching the morning fiction class, plus afternoon sessions on writing a compelling first page. Students in the "First Page" workshops will be submitting their pages ahead of time for critique during the class. Preparing for the "First Page" classes has got me thinking about openings in novels--what I expect of them. What works and what doesn't. Then on an author loop we got to talking on that very subject. Here's Angela Hunt's response. I'm running it (with her permission) because I agree with her on just about every point.
When I teach, I always stress that the beginning of the novel establishes an unspoken contract with the reader. In those all-important first few words, you are--or should be-- doing the following:
*indicating the genre (if you start with an action sequence, you're promising a book full of action. Ditto for gore, romance, suspense, etc. The reader will naturally expect more of whatever you're doling out.)
*revealing your voice and skill level
*introducing the protagonist (I know a lot of people break this rule, but people naturally expect the first character they meet to be the main character.)
*Indicating the tense, POV, and setting
*Establishing the tone (somber, comedic, suspenseful, intellectual, etc.)
If you give the reader something different in chapter two, you run the risk of alienating your reader. That's another reason why first chapters are all-important.
My pet peeve (and boy, does it make me peevish): when people take an exciting scene from the back of the book and stick it up front to hook us. Makes me think the writer couldn't come up with anything better.
I'm going to discuss each point tomorrow. In the meantime--what do you think about these points? Anything you'd add or subtract?
P.S. If you don't see a post here tomorrow, blame it on my traveling today. I'm finally getting to fly home, after being trapped in the ice storm for two days. If I arrive too late, I may not put up a post for Friday. If so, we'll take this subject up on Monday.