Sunday, February 3, 2019
There are so many books about how to start a novel. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Hooked by Les Edgerton are two of my favorites.
We all know or should know that the first scene or chapter should have an inciting incident that changes everything for the hero. This is a sweeping recommendation, bordering on a commandment. We also know that we shouldn’t start with dialogue as a rule because we don’t know the characters too well yet nor do we know where we are. This is a pointer often given.
Today, I want to write about the first paragraph or two. These suggestions are pointers not some sweeping do or die commandment.
First, let’s see an example from chapter one, paragraph one of Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips:
“It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of the road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger-than-life world. “Son of a…” Dean slammed on the brakes of his brand-new Aston Martin Vanquish and pulled over in front of her.”
I hardly know where to begin or what to leave to your imagination or for you to figure out on your own. Phillips is that good. Simple words or phrases like side of the road, marching, larger-than-life, brand new, headless beaver… all evocative and precise (and understandable). There is not one word that doesn’t fit. Her first paragraph is like a mosaic in which removing any piece spoils the art.
Immediately, we have a sense of who Dean is, what he wants and/or maybe doesn’t know it “her.”
1. The first paragraph gives us a story promise. The rich, Dean, is going to go out of his way for a strange lady or something he has never experienced. What’s with his life (purpose or lack of) that would compel him to stop his car?
2. It tells us where he is, a back road somewhere.
3. It shows our hero to have a sense of adventure, fun and wonderment of life.
4. “Marching” gives a sense of the heroine. She’s proud and maybe disgusted with her plight since she’s no longer wearing her head.
5. “Slammed on the brakes” shows that the hero is impulsive. He already finds the “beaver” irresistible in some way he might not yet fully comprehend.
6. Pulling over in front of her shows his type A personality. He saying stop right there young lady. I must talk to you and I always get my way.
For most of us mortals telling a bit about the POV character and where he is, in the first paragraph, is a good start. To engage the reader’s imagination in a focused way is good. To write using abstraction is bad. Bad, because a wondering mind will lead to the reader wondering why she’s reading your story.
For homework read over your first paragraph and see if you could be confused with Susan Elizabeth Phillips.