“The dead are seldom silent. They have their stories to tell and their gift of foresight to share. All that is required for them to be heard is that someone be willing to listen. I have been listening to the dead all my life, and they never clamor more loudly for my attention than at a funeral.”
THE MIDNIGHT WITCH, Paula Brackston, St. Martin’s Press
Beginnings. Every story has one. A skillfully crafted opening that invites you into a make believe world and introduces you to the characters with whom you are about to spend the next hundred, two hundred, perhaps four hundred pages. A well written beginning draws you in. It engages you. If it doesn’t, you’re not likely to stick around to find out what happens next.
The lines above are from the opening of Paula Brackston’s THE MIDNIGHT WITCH, and I think they do a wonderful job of setting the stage. In only a few lines, I knew I’d met a heroine who was out of the ordinary. Someone with abilities that intrigued me, and that I wanted to learn more about. In less than a hundred words, the author set the mood and the tone of the story to follow.
Not an easy thing to do!
A good beginning raises questions in the reader’s mind. Who are these people? Why are they here and what’s going to happen to them? More importantly, why should I care?
You care because the skill of the author makes you care. A well crafted opening keeps you turning the pages. It draws you into the story and into the oftimes twisted but always interesting lives of the characters who populate it. No other part of the book does that in quite the same way. By the time you reach the second or third chapters, some of the blanks have already been filled in. But the opening pages are a clean slate. The reader comes to them with little or no knowledge of the characters and with no preconceived notions of how the story is going to unfold. This is where the author gets to work his or her magic.
In essence, opening pages are the author’s first chance at making not only a good impression but a powerful one.
One of our favorite exercises at the Red Door is to bring along five or six books in a variety of genres that none of us have read, read only the first five pages, and then talk about what worked for us and what did not. We discuss whether or not we would read on and most of the time we say yes. If we say no, we discuss what we felt was lacking. Then we go back and look at our own manuscripts to see if our opening pages stand the “first 5 pages test”. If they don’t…
Opening pages. Always interesting, never easy, and absolutely essential to any book’s success.