By Jennifer Slattery, @Jenslattery
Reader patience. If my personal reading habits are any indication, it’s getting thinner and thinner. The more books that pile on my bedside table and fill my Kindle, the less time I’ll give each one to grab me.
In other words, if the opening pages don’t compel me to turn the page, chances are I won’t.
I hate to admit it. I am part of the grab-me-or-lose-me generation. Part of the very generation I bemoan. But we’re here to say, if not increase, so perhaps my inner writer should learn some things from my inner reader.
1. Don’t start a book with description.
My muse is quite visual. She can picture every leaf fluttering in the breeze and every one that twirls, whimsically, to the ground. I can picture the exact shade and length of the grass, the ladybug crawling up the single, slightly curved blade.
I’m thinking I lost you at breeze. These details are great, once the story begins to unfold, but not for an opening paragraph.
Maybe a line or two is okay, but unless you give context as to who’s saying what and why your reader’s going to feel lost. Like they’re eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation. When what we want is for them to feel a part of it.
Make sure your reader is grounded. Clarity trumps eloquence every time.
3. Save backstory for later.
There’s very little background information a reader needs to know in order to become engrossed in our stories. We’ve got 300-some pages to show (notice I said show) them our character’s shy, or afraid of men, or lost their puppy one morning as they walked to the store. A good rule of thumb is to avoid all backstory for the first fifty pages or so, focusing on pulling your reader deeper into the story instead. We also need to scrutinize every piece of information, asking ourselves, “Does my reader really need to know this? Is this really significant to this story?”
More than half the time, we’ll find the answer is no.
4. Reveal the what and why.
What does your protagonist hope to accomplish and why? The what and why, more commonly referred to as goals and motivations, provide context for the rest of the story. Goals tell the readers what to root for, and character motivation tells them why they should care. The sooner you reveal these two crucial story components, the more engaged your reader will be. Neglect to show a clear and compelling goal and the reasons behind it and everything else you write will feel pointless.
First impressions, whether in life or in books, matter. A lot. The market is saturated with so many books, many times a quick, first-page glance, is all we’ll get. If we’re lucky, readers will read a few chapters. In both cases, we want to give them every reason to keep reading by doing all we can to make our openings strong.
What are your thoughts on this as a reader? What are some ways you’ve worked to make your openings stronger? Do you have any opening lines to share?
Brooke Endress is on the cusp of her lifelong dream when her younger sister persuades her to chaperone a mission trip to El Salvador. Packing enough hand sanitizer and bug spray to single-handedly wipe out malaria, she embarks on what she hopes will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But Brooke is blindsided by the desperation for hope and love she sees in the orphans’ eyes. And no less by the connection she feels with her handsome translator. As newfound passion blooms, Brooke wrestles with its implications for her career dreams.
Ubaldo Chavez, teacher and translator, knows the struggle that comes with generational poverty. But he found the way out – education – and is determined to help his students rise above.
When he agrees to translate for a mission team from the United States he expects to encounter a bunch of “missional tourists” full of empty promises. Yet an American news anchor defies his expectations, and he finds himself falling in love. But what does he have to offer someone with everything?
Author, speaker, and ministry leader Jennifer Slattery writes for Crosswalk.com and is the managing and acquiring editor for Guiding Light Women’s Fiction, an imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She believes fiction has the power to transform lives and change the culture. Healing Love is her sixth novel, and it was birthed during a trip she and her family took to El Salvador that opened her eyes to the reality of generational poverty and sparked a love for orphans and all who’ve experienced loss.
Her deepest passion is to help women experience God’s love and discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she travels with her team to various churches to speak to women and help them experience the love and freedom only Christ can offer. When not writing, editing, or speaking, you’ll likely find her chatting with her friends or husband in a quiet, cozy coffeehouse. Visit her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her and her Wholly Loved team at WhollyLoved.com