How to Begin a Novel

The first page of the novel is the most crucial part of the story. Knowing how to hook the reader right from the beginning will increase the likelihood of the reader turning the page. This has vital importance when submitting the novel to publishers.

How to Get Literary Agents Interested

The first page is also the part of the story most looked at by potential agents and publishers. If the writer does not take the time to perfect it and get the reader interested, all efforts in completing the novel to get it published will have been wasted. For this reason, many writers spend hours over the first 250 words.

Hooking the Reader

It is a good exercise for the writer to examine great openings to novels and to ask how and why they grip the reader. Examples such as The Stand by Stephen King (New English Library Ltd, 1982) and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee (Heinemann, 1966) do this in contrasting ways, King by propelling the reader into action, Lee by via an unusual narrative voice.

Creative Writing Tips on Starting a Novel

When writing the opening to a novel, the following considerations might help sharpen and improve the opening passages:

  • Using an unusual or distinctive narrative voice
  • Opening the novel at a crucial point, such as the imparting of an important secret, an embarrassing scenario or fast action.
  • A unique problem
  • Presenting questions that need answering, providing a mystery of some kind
Such techniques are likely to make the rest of the book irresistible to the reader.
How Not to Begin a Novel

What to leave out can be as crucial as what to leave in. The beginner might be tempted to give too much away too soon. It is important to remember that this is not what the reader wants. Tension and suspense is often brought about by the selective drip-feeding of information at strategic points of the novel. The beginning must reveal just enough to pose questions, but not too much.

Suspense Writing

Of course, the best story in the world would not be so interesting if the storyteller is not very good at relating it. The writing style is vital for making the story a more enjoyable read. The following pointers might help with a few issues that remain.

  • Prefer the concrete expression to the abstract
  • Prefer the simple to the complex
  • Use Saxon words instead of Latin if possible
  • Cut superfluous words, repetitive expressions, excessive adjectives, adverbs and lengthy descriptive passages
  • Substitute clichés for original expressions
  • Cut long sentences and paragraphs
  • Clarify, if any meanings are obscure
  • Substitute passive writing for active verbs
  • And as always, eliminate grammatical errors and typos

How to Begin a Story

It might also be worth looking further into the book to see if another scene could be used for the opening scene instead. Rejigging key scenes in a novel might work in a way the writer might not have expected. Reading the passage aloud might clarify further issues, such as whether the words flow in a way the writer intended. The first few sentences are often all the reader needs in their decision to take the book on or not. 
© Rachel Shirley 2010