Never judge a book by its cover—that’s what the first page is for.
Of course a great story needs much more than a great first sentence or first chapter to succeed. We need all the other elements: plot, pacing, character, voice, themes, setting, conflict—but a book really stands out to me when they have all of those other elements and the killer opening and closing paragraphs. It’s the polishing touch—the eyeliner, the lipstick, the red dress.
First sentences, first pages, first chapters, make lasting first impressions. If you can’t hook a reader, or agent past the first chapter, you’re a goner.
Here are some tips to help your novel stand out and polish it:
A) Work hard on writing that gripping opening, and finishing with a twist at the end of each chapter. In other words, entice them on one end, and leave them hanging/wondering at the other. ***Don’t know where to start? Study: Write down on a piece of paper a few good first lines/paragraphs from books that made big impressions (whether classic or contemporary.) Ask yourself how the author created intrigue–Mystery? Action? Conflict? Then apply what you learn to your chapters.
B) Make sure the conflict, the goal, the desire are clear in each chapter-and whats stopping your character from getting it/what they need to accomplish their goal. If the stakes aren’t high enough, then readers will put it down.
C) Make sure your characters are introduced through action, giving us a sense of who they are. Make sure we can identify with them in some way. A character can make or break a novel.
D) Test your book. Ask your beta readers to do the first sentence test, then the first page test, then the first chapter test. Ask them – do they like the voice? Is there enough conflict? Can they identify with the character? Do they like the themes they’re detecting? Are they left with questions? Wanting more? If the answers are yes, then you’ve got a real book in your hands. Then go back to step 1, and apply what you have accomplished in chapter 1 to all of your chapters.
E) Writer’s Tip: Make a practice of reading a chapter or two in your genre before your writing session.This helps get you in the mind set. If you don’t have new books at home go to Amazon. Browse a few chapters for free. Study the opening paragraphs, the way they set everything up and hook you. A teenage friend handed me Percy Jackson, The Lightening Thief when it first emerged. I had no intention of reading it, thinking it was too young. But after I read the first page, I was hooked. A good book is a good book.
Once you accomplish this concept, then you can write a gripping book. My goal here for you is to polish each of your chapters like they are your first chapter.
Any first lines you love? Feel free to post them in the comments…Good first sentences are my favorite. I’d love to hear more.
Wishing you all the best in your writing endeavors.
Nova Signing Off
3 thoughts on “Make your Novel Stand Out”
I went to Barnes and Nobles to do an exercise in this vein, just to see what first lines the recent releases had. It was interesting to see that some of the best-sellers didn’t always have the best hooks for first lines, while other books intrigued me from the get-go that I would never normally consider reading. If it had been a book-buying trip my wallet would have been hurting, since I would have liked to see how those stories unfolded.
My favorite first line comes from Snoopy, and was also used by Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), which never fails to make me smile at how even a re-used line can lead to amazing places. “It was a dark and stormy night…”
The only other first line I know from memory is Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Which, considering who says the line, cannot be taken seriously).
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