• strict warning: Declaration of FeedsImporter::copy() should be compatible with FeedsConfigurable::copy(FeedsConfigurable $configurable) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/includes/FeedsImporter.inc on line 94.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsNodeProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsNodeProcessor.inc on line 319.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsNodeProcessor::setTargetElement() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::setTargetElement(&$target_item, $target_element, $value) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsNodeProcessor.inc on line 319.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsFeedNodeProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsFeedNodeProcessor.inc on line 227.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsFeedNodeProcessor::setTargetElement() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::setTargetElement(&$target_item, $target_element, $value) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsFeedNodeProcessor.inc on line 227.
  • strict warning: Declaration of FeedsUserProcessor::map() should be compatible with FeedsProcessor::map($source_item, $target_item = NULL) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/feeds/plugins/FeedsUserProcessor.inc on line 195.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • warning: preg_replace(): Compilation failed: disallowed Unicode code point (>= 0xd800 && <= 0xdfff) at offset 1809 in /home/writezil/public_html/modules/search/search.module on line 334.
  • You must include at least one positive keyword with 3 characters or more.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_display::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_display.inc on line 1877.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_display_block::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin_display::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_display_block.inc on line 193.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_field_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_field.inc on line 641.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_sort_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_sort.inc on line 82.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 585.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 585.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 609.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_boolean_operator::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_boolean_operator.inc on line 128.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_style_default::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_style_default.inc on line 25.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of content_handler_field::options() should be compatible with views_object::options() in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/cck/includes/views/handlers/content_handler_field.inc on line 208.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 843.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument::init() should be compatible with views_handler::init(&$view, $options) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 745.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_argument_broken::ui_name() should be compatible with views_handler::ui_name($short = false) in /home/writezil/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_argument.inc on line 770.

Beyond the First Five Pages

http://writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/tracks-525x266.jpg 525w, http://writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/tracks.jpg 640w" sizes="(max-width: 515px) 100vw, 515px" />Remember, your readers want an opening that takes them somewhere. Image from Creative Commons
An agent once told me that she reads the first sentence of a manuscript.  If she likes it, she reads the second, then the third.  If she finishes the manuscript, she signs it up.
I suspect most readers are willing to give you a little more leeway than that, but there’s a reason so many workshops, online discussions, articles, and writing books focus on your hook – your first five pages, your opening page, even your first paragraph.  Most readers buy books because they know what they’ll be getting.  Writers with an established reputation can take their time getting into their stories because they know their readers will stick with them until the story’s underway.  But if you’re just starting out, readers are less likely to trust you for a chapter or two.  Those opening paragraphs may be the only chance you get to suck them into your fictional world.
But obsessing over your opening paragraphs carries its own risks.  You may try to pack so much tension, so much hook into your opening that you wind up writing page one in a voice that doesn’t match page two.  Many years ago, I worked with a client who was trying so hard to impress her readers with her hook that her first few pages were unreadably self-conscious.  She didn’t settle down to clear prose until about page 10.
Or you could wind up with a brilliant, precisely-crafted, exciting hook that’s not actually part of your story.  Years ago, I edited a novel about a Viet Nam nurse that opened with the high drama of a field hospital, then followed her career through the war.  Thing is, the main story was less about the nurse’s battlefield experience as about how it affected her when she returned home.  Opening in Nam delayed the start of the story for a hundred pages or so, until the writer managed to get the nurse back to the States.  In her next draft, the nurse had a flashback-induced panic attack while she was giving birth and wound up huddled under her hospital bed, and things went on from there.  It was not quite as exciting as the battlefield, but it pulled readers straight into the story.
The importance of grab-your-readers-by-the-throat tension may be a little overrated, as well.  The opening paragraphs are important, sure, but they’re also easy to examine.  You can fit a decent analysis of two paragraphs into a 500-word blog entry, or explain what works and what doesn’t in a ten-minute panel discussion at a writing workshop.  Judging the opening paragraphs against the context of the entire story takes a lot more time and effort.   So the amount of attention that gets paid to your hook in writerly circles may give you a false sense of its value.
A lot of wildly successful books have hooks that most of these reviews would reject out of hand.  For instance, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, the first book of the series of the same name, literally opens with the weather.  “My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.  It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue.”  (Bear in mind that, though Meyer’s books have their problems, they are immensely popular.  She must be doing something right.)  It’s not as if Meyer had a track record to rely on – she had not even written a short story before writing Twilight.  It looks like the opener is a classic beginner’s mistake.
Yet the story that follows was strong enough to find a large and grateful readership.  And that story does begin with the weather.  Bella is moving from sunny Phoenix to perpetually-gray Washington State, where the vampires she meets have chosen to live specifically for the constant cloud cover.  (They tend to sparkle in direct sunlight).  Readers don’t realize it at the time, but that amateurish-looking comment about the weather drops them into the middle of the true story from the first paragraph.
Another immensely successful first novel, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opens with a first chapter that is entirely flashback.  Even worse, it’s written from the point of view of an omniscient narrator.  It opens by introducing the pathologically normal Dursley family, Mr. Dursley’s job with Grunnings Drills, and the family home on relentlessly suburban Privet drive.  Things do get a little strange after that, what with a lot of owls flying around and a stray cat who seems to read road signs.  But all the action that triggers the events of the first chapter happens in the background.
But Rowling’s opening drops readers into the middle of the strange and whimsical world in which the stories take place, right from the opening line:  “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”  The slight sarcasm of the “. . . thank you very much” tells you that the Dursley’s normality is not going to be the last word, even before Hagrid shows up on the flying motorcycle.  And the fact that the motivating action takes place in the background creates the sense of Rowling’s magical world hidden behind the façade of normality the Dursleys represent.  The opening violates a lot of the rules of writing a good hook, but it is exactly the right place to start the actual story.
If you open your story with a sharp, snappy hook, you stand a good chance of getting your readers to keep reading.  But if you follow that hook with a story that has nothing to do with it, they may not finish.  And even if they do, they’ll be less likely to buy your next one.  Ultimately, what will build your readership is not your opening paragraphs, but the stories that follow them.
What’s your favorite example of a hook that doesn’t take you anywhere?  What went wrong?  Or what are your favorite books that lead you into the story gently and gradually?

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About Dave KingDave King is the co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a best-seller among writing books. An independent editor since 1987, he is also a former contributing editor at Writer's Digest. Many of his magazine pieces on the art of writing have been anthologized in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing and in The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic. You can check out several of his articles and get other writing tips on his website.Web | Facebook | More Posts

"Living gives you a better understanding of life. I would hope that my characters have become deeper and more rounded personalities. Wider travels have given me considerably greater insight into how cultural differences affect not only people, but politics and art."
Alan Dean Foster

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Fast fact about writing

Writing was developed independently in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, and among the Maya in Central America. There are some areas where the question as to whether writing was adopted or independently developed is in doubt, as at Easter Island.