"It was a dark and stormy night…" No, no, never begin a story with the weather. The reader will skip ahead and look for action or characters, or heaven forbid, close the book. Okay, let's see. "I was falling, falling…and then I woke up." Nope, I remember, now, NEVER open a book with a dream--or an alarm clock or phone ringing. What about something really funny? For example, "Nearing the counter with a full tray, her foot slipped on spilled…." Uh, oh. That's on the list of no-no's, too.
Such a list exists, in fact. The admonitions may vary slightly, but editors are programmed to stop reading a submission after the first sentence or first paragraph if she/he sees these red flags. The nineteenth-century Gothic novels opened with long brooding descriptions of the weather, or a monologue recounting the entire genealogy of the family in the story, enough to make one's eyes glaze over.
In today's world, the reader wants and deserves action, the inciting incident, the reason for the story, and he wants it right away. In some manner, the opening sentence or first paragraph or first chapter must give the reader what he wants--"What is this novel about?"
Grabbing the attention of an editor you'd like to impress or a reader you'd like to keep is an art form all its own. Books galore sit on shelves or can be found on-line that help the budding author or the experienced one who wants a refresher course learn a bit more about a good beginning.
I once won a little contest on a blog with the opening line of my first release. First lines from ten romance novels were listed and readers voted on the best opening. This is the winning line (mine): If I'd known running away would be this hot and this dirty, I'd have stayed home. However, what does my first line tell the reader? A woman is running away (from whom and why?), and the woman obviously is a little fastidious. In my humble opinion, this line met the criteria to set up the story. Plus, an editor liked it because she offered me a contract in three weeks.
Here are the beginning lines from four different romance novels.
1. The truth had long been settling on Jonathan Gray, sneaking into his resisting corners, but it had finally resounded in the deepest part of him. (The Fulfillment, LaVyrle Spencer)
2. He'd known all day something was about to go down, something life-changing and entirely new. ( Montana Creeds: Dylan, Linda Lael Miller)
3. Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly sat in the back seat of a black cab, driving from Dublin's airport through the city. (What Matters Most-Luanne Rice)
4. "Rachel! Rachel!" Ella called in the high-pitched panic voice that usually preceded bad news. (Texas Honor-Debra White Smith)
These opening lines come from Best-Selling authors. Do we need to pay closer attention to the novels we read? Go to a bookstore, find a shelf of best-sellers in romance, and open several to study the first page. Just read the first line.
Make a list of the kind of hooks that interest you in a book. Your list may be the same as mine.
3.Pulls me into the story
4. Straight forward
5. Brief and punchy
6. Rouses curiosity
7. Emotionally charged
8. A declarative sentence
Hooking your reader is not easy, but with a little self-study, you can improve your chances with editors and nail that contract. With your next or current WIP, try writing five opening sentences and ask fellow authors or your critique partners help you select one.
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas