Anyone who knows me, knows I am an impatient reader. I want to be submerged into the story I am reading from the jump. In fact, usually, if the story doesn’t catch my interest within the first page (first paragraph if I’m entirely honest) I will usually put it down. That’s not a bad reflection on the author, per se, but I’m impatient. I’ll pick the book up again if there were rave reviews or if the boring start showed at least some promise, but nine times out of ten, I’ll put it down again if something interesting doesn’t happen.
I realize this is a problem, I’ve missed out on some great books, I’m sure, but I’m impatient. I want it now. And, I know I am not alone. So the challenge to the writer is to make their book engaging to me, right away. As an author, myself, knowing my own tendencies informs the way I write. And for people like me…tch…yeh…If its not happening on page one, it may be too late.
HOW TO MAKE READERS DIVE IN FROM PAGE ONE
How many times have you started a movie and ten minutes in your like, “the hell is this?” Well, that’s me, and readers like me who start a book that sounded good but crapped out from the jump. As writers its our job to create a world in words, and we tend to get lost in our own minds, writing to please ourselves. That’s fine if you never want another soul to read it but if you do, then you must:
WRITE FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF A READER
(This is going to sound crazy) but I keep an imaginary reader beside me at all times. That’s right folks. (Now, you know my deep dark secret.) This reader is technically another character in my mind. Every time I write a new scene, if it didn’t elicit some sort of reaction from this reader, I scrap it and start again. Are they gasping? Are they seeing the events play out? Can they taste the pungent wine? Can they smell the blood and decay? If not, its time to scrap it. There has to be deep unresolved questions spiraling in the minds of the reader to keep them engaged; a need to see things to resolved. If its not there, well…you know the drill.
So how does this imaginary reader get hooked right away? I’m glad you asked! A few great ways are:
I’m of the mindset that if a writer can engage at least two of my senses in the first sentence, I’m hooked! One of the
best ways to do this is through onomatopoeia. In other words, sound. Hearing is the basest and most primal of our instincts. Before a baby can even see, they can hear sounds inside the womb! It is our first line of defense; activating our fight or flight reflexes. Think how you jump when a door is slammed. Activate that primal instinct in your reader.
Example 1: The arrow whistled past her ear.
Example 2: Alex sank to his knees, covering his ears. Make it stop! Make it stop!
Example 3: Andre stared out over the pool again. He smiled, closed his eyes and dropped his head back. He was alone. Just he way liked it. Splash!
(What was your natural instinct? Did you just flinch? Did your ear just quirk up? Precisely.)
As I’ve said before, you are not limited to sound. Try using another sense. Smell is also a great way to grab your reader. Try combining two or more senses to make your world jump off the page.
Throw your reader in the middle of a conversation. One of my favorite tactics is to disorient my reader, momentarily. As it will naturally raise questions, in their mind. Like so:
“I said, no!”
“Oh, c’mon, Alex!”
“No! You had no right, Andre!”
“Why are you making such a big deal outta it?”
“Because it stupid and its dangerous. If mom ever finds out, we’re both dead.”
Why are they arguing? Why can’t they do it? Why is Alex so mad at Andre? Dialogue also serves as a window into the personality of the character. Here we can infer that whatever Andre did was reckless and had serious repercussions. Alex on the other hand is more level headed and straight laced. We can also infer their relationship through this exchange and we also have a window into the temperament of their parent.
Already your reader has some sort of investment into the story. Just this exchange alone warrants more questions.
Speaking of questions; why not start with one? (See, what I did there?! LOL) By proposing a question, you set the premise that there is a problem that needs to be solved. Questions also warrant more questions. If done correctly.
How cool would it be to pick up a book and the first thing that greets you on page one is:
Why should I?
Well, wouldn’t you have done it?
Was I wrong?
Hand in hand with question comes a declarative statement. A short phrase that makes a solid point but also arouses curiosity.
Example 1: I’m never going back to grandma’s, again.
Example 2: This was the worst day of my life.
Example 3: I knew it.
The very best thing you can ever do is draw an emotional connection to your character; the sooner you do that, the better. Once your reader is emotional invested, there is no turning back. Most stories that fail, do so because they fail to make their readers care or fail to do it quickly enough. Do it on page one…and you set yourself up for success.
His face was beat red as he stared at the ground, drawing circles in the sand with his toes. The salty tear hung on the tip of his nose as he clenched his jaw, wincing as the metallic taste of blood slid down the back of his throat. Papa was home again.
Well there you have it folks, some tips and tricks of grabbing your reader and getting them to jump into your story headfirst! Can you think of any other ways? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below! Until then G-NATION! Genesys Out!