With strategies like,
1. Startle readers with the first line. Shocking readers immediately with a jarring moment, visual, or confession will get them excited to read on. One of my favorite novels, the Pulitzer-winning Middlesex, starts with a doozy of a first line:and
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
It’s surprising and mysterious, and it gets the reader right into the main character’s head — it’s a confession of sorts, which unravels throughout the novel. For me, there was absolutely no way I could put the book down.
2. Begin at a life-changing moment. A life-changing event for a protagonist can be their “inciting incident” — a moment that thrusts him or her into the conflict they must resolve or overcome by the end of the story. The first chapter of Jodi Picoult’s Handle with Care talks about a baby’s birth — always exciting! But things get even more interesting when the baby emerges with a whole host of health problems — forcing her parents to make a heart-wrenching decision.You'll be hooked! (And so, we hope, will your readers!)
This “inciting incident” all happens within the first ten pages of the novel. By the end of chapter one, the reader knows the whole situation at hand, and can’t turn the pages fast enough to see what happens next.
I also loved this tidbit in the article:
"A professor in my MFA program gave me great advice once: Pretend your characters are at a party, and they’re talking to you, the reader, for the first time. Would they really tell you their whole history right away, or would they do so only getting to know you? A few telling character traits here and there can go a long way toward getting us to sympathize with a character. Once the reader is hooked, then it might be time delve into that backstory. It’s a delicate balance, but in the beginning of a novel, less is often more!"
Read the whole piece here.
Illustrate and Write On,