Those first few pages of your manuscript can make it or break it. Can draw a potential reader in or push them away. When you browse the bookstore, you don’t open up to the middle of the book where the meat of the action is. You scan the first page to know if you want to read more. If you don’t like what you see, you put it back.
How do you avoid your story being rejected before it even gets read?
You can’t say, “Wait! But it gets really good in a bit. I promise.”
I’ve been working on a new project recently, and I was struggling through the first few chapters. I kept thinking, “I just want to get to the good part already.” Huh? Ummm, if that’s what I’m thinking as I write it, then what will my readers think!?
So it got me working on ways to maximize the excitement on the first page and keep it going until the very last page. No one likes a weak ending, so why would you want a weak beginning?
Does your story start in the wrong place?
“But all that back-story is really important. How will the reader know what’s going on?” Trust me. Your reader is smarter than you think. They don’t need to know everything all at once. They’re not going to be drawn into your beloved world filled with memorable characters if you begin telling them all about it. Just get on with it and show them already.
Jump right into the thick of it.
Where is that first action scene? Where is that call to action for your hero? Where is the first big event? Where does your story really begin? Does your novel start a few weeks before your main character finds the dead body, or can they stumble upon it in the very first chapter? Do we need to learn all about a relationship before it crumbles? Or can you reveal tidbits of history as the bride flees the church before the ceremony?
Don’t spoil your chance to add a twist.
All that back-story can be incorporated throughout your novel. Tell the reader what they need to know when they need to know it. Not before. Who knows, it could be used as a shocker for the reader later on. What!? The man she loves is really the son of the witch that turned her parents into trolls? Or something like that.
When it rains, it pours.
In real life, it can seem like exciting events rarely happen, and when they do, it’s separated by long periods of, well… real life. That’s not true for our characters. For them, there’s always something big happening. A party, a murder, threats to reveal their darkest secrets, time travel. But why draw them out over several chapters? Why can’t they happen all at once? And don’t wait. Torture your characters right from the start. That will grab that picky bookstore browser’s attention. Throw your characters a curveball every chance you get. They don’t need a happy, take-a-breather chapter. They can rest when the story is over. Sure, sometimes we need to build suspense, but we need to be honest with ourselves. Is it really to draw out suspense? Or the word count?
So start your novel off with a bang! And make every moment count, because books, as with life, are too short.