Is Your Book Slow Out of the Gate?

Is your book opening slow? It may be tempting to open it gradually with an everyday scene. Perhaps your character is getting ready for school or work. Maybe they’re pondering their life. Maybe they’re staring into the mirror having a think. Maybe they’re staring at the sunset, thinking of the meaning of life. Or sorting through their sock drawer. Or cleaning their purse. Or weeding the garden. Before you begin your book with any of a million mundane activities while your character is deep inside their head thinking about whatever it is they think about…STOP.

If this were some random book you picked up off a shelf, would you keep reading? What would keep you reading? While it’s true that people do these types of things, opening a story with them usually doesn’t hook the reader unless you have a fantastic way of presenting it that makes them keep reading.

Either find a way to make what you want to say really interesting or open with some action that pertains to the story. Hook that reader. Here are some opening paragraphs from books. See what you think.Would you keep reading?

Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, has unique ideas regarding physical therapy. (Cold Days by Jim Butcher)

I spent the last afternoon of Before constructing a 1/10,000-scale replica of the Empire State Building from boxes of adult diapers. It was a thing of beauty, really, spanning five feet at its base and towering above the cosmetics aisle, with jumbos for the foundation, lites for the observation deck, and meticulously stacked trial sizes for its iconic spire. It was almost perfect, minus one crucial detail. (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs)

The snake-haired ladies were starting to annoy Percy. (The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan)

“You asked for cold cases, Neil,” the captain said. He pressed the play button of the digital recorder and leaned back. (The Case of D.B. Cooper’s Parachute by William L. Sullivan)

When they brought him to me, I knew he wasn’t going to make it through the night. I had the ominous feeling he wouldn’t even make it through the next few hours. The damage to his body was well beyond anything that could be repaired. He seemed to be quite aware of it, too. My heart sank in my chest as I would be the only one to help him now. I watched as everyone moved on to other soldiers and sat down beside him. (The Purple Heart by Christie Gucker)

Do you see a pattern? You can tell by the opening paragraph that something is going to happen in that first chapter. It won’t be filled with a character going over their inner angst while they sort their socks or polish their silver. Each opening promises the reader that they won’t be disappointed if they keep reading.

This is what you have to keep in mind. Do characters eat? Sure. Do they do mundane things? Maybe. Do we care if they do mundane things? Probably not. What is it that makes us care about their journey? Of course not every book is about fighting monsters or tracking down killers. They don’t have to be. What they do have to do is make us care.

Take Christie Gucker’s book mentioned above. Ultimately, it’s about love and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yet she makes you care about the characters and their journey. It’s hard to put the book down. That’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? You want your readers to keep turning those pages until the end of the book, and then say, “Damn! It’s over already?” You want those readers so engaged with your story that they don’t want it to end. You don’t do that by losing them in the first chapter.

I’m not saying your characters can’t have mundane moments. At some point, it’s probable they’ll have a moment where they’ll mull over their choices while they make a sandwich or sort the laundry. Just don’t do it in the first chapter.


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