“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —anonymous
Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers? The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book.
The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.
This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth for writers. It’s what I do. I read and reread over my manuscripts to analyze them.
A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose
There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. An author examines the first 250 words of the story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask:
- What is the purpose of this introduction?
- Why is it set up like this?
- Is there a hook for the reader?
- Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
- What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?
These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey the introduction can produce.
The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of the story and should let the reader know what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming it over on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them. If it’s worth their time, money, and energy. Books, writing, and reading are all about an exchange of energy.
Can the author provide a worthwhile exchange for the reader?
Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting
I once heard a fellow writer say:
“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —anonymous
While that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of the prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.
Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel
Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.
Internal dialog or exposition can hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read, but that’s a topic for another time. Still, its a useful tool and it does have a place.
Stress is…Good for Readers?
Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into the story. Dangle that carrot! Gosh, sometimes I feel like a drug dealer with these dopamine-filled scenes. 😦
Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions
Approach the introduction with a sense of clarity and purpose for the reader. Have a plan for the intro, and reflect that throughout the story. The promises made in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, the introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.
Striking a Balance
A solid introduction to a novel is vital. Take time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after the twentieth read through, authors may discover new insights about themselves as writers. Even as souls. Each piece of the story, the characters, the scenes, are reflections of the author.
- Is it long enough to cover everything?
- Is it short enough to keep it interesting?
- Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?
If a writer can bond the reader with the main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulations! That writer has accomplished a feat that most struggle with. Beginnings are, for me, the most exciting part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest.
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader, and thanks again for reading!
—Ed R. White