This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about since I decided to venture into the Kindle Scout program. Since you are required to provide an opening to your book and try to entice them to vote for your book based on what they see in that brief extract, being able to obtain and hold their attention is extremely important.
With that being said, I thought I would gather some tips on how to grab your reader’s attention at the beginning of a book to help out others as you create your masterpieces.
1. Give a hint of what to expect
In your opening, you can tip off your reader on what will be coming. I have tried a few different style openings in my own books. Since they are usually murder mysteries, I have sometimes used a variation of what I call the “Columbo opening”.
If you remember the TV series, Columbo, the show would often open with the murder and would very often tell the viewer who committed it or why the person was killed right up front. It would then be up to Lieutenant Columbo to find a way to trap the killer and bring them to justice. He often did this in a way that appeared disjointed and inept. You realized by the end of the episode, however, that he was simply using his bumbling demeanor to give the criminal a false sense of confidence so he could then reel them in.
I tried this in my book, Let Me Be Frank, which opens with the murder of a young girl and then progresses into my detective duo of Frank Rozzani and Clifford Jones finding out the motivation for the murder.
2. Switch Directions
Another technique I have used is to take the reader down one path in the opening and then switch directions. I also call this the “Psycho” opening. If you recall the movie Psycho, the movie seems to center on the murder of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) as she showers in the Bates Motel.
The movie changes directions, however, and focuses on Norman’s mental illness and the victim’s sister discovering his secret as she tries to find out what happens to her sister. The murder becomes secondary.
In my upcoming book, Blood Match, the main character witnesses a murder, but that murder only serves as a plot device for his own predicament in the story as it changes direction and focus.
3. Set the mood
If you’re writing in a certain genre, you can set a mood in your novel from the beginning. If it’s in the horror genre, you might want to give your reader a little scare or shocking event right at the beginning to let them know what is to come. If it’s a romance novel, consider starting out with a love scene or relationship milestone that then sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Just remember, don’t start with the weather. This seems to be a universal rule that you see everywhere. This can be a bit of a misnomer as some famous books start out discussing the weather or the season. In the book, The Bell Jar, the opening reads, “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Even though the weather and the Rosenbergs’ execution has nothing to do with the story, it sets the mood nicely.
4. Open with dialogue to establish your characters’ voice
You will see many articles on writing tips telling you that this is something to avoid. I disagree. There are some compelling examples of books that grab your attention by opening with dialog. It’s a risky venture, however, as you can’t hide. Your character is out there with no setting of the scene or descriptive narrative.
Here are some examples of books that open with strong dialogue:
“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
—Alice Walker, The Color Purple
“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.”
—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“‘You are full of nightmares,’ Harriet tells me.”
—James Baldwin, This Morning, This Evening, So Soon
So, what strategies do you use in opening your works? How do you grab your readers? Let’s share.