I came across some really fabulous notes from the Highlights Chautauqua workshop I attended two years ago and it reminded me of the importance of opening your novel correctly.
Because, one thing I have learned on this journey is that it DOES matter.
We should, too.
Disclaimer: I get not every novel is the same and not every rule applies all the time, but the following is still worth our consideration.
So...how to start your novel?
#1: Draw that line
Ask yourself: what does the opening scene say? What line does it draw in the sand? Why should readers even care?
Maybe you're asking, "What does it mean 'draw a line in the sand?'
Quite simply, the opening page of your novel (or very soon thereafter) should state a premise that will eventually be overturned.
Example from literature: Holes by Louis Sachar, "Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys" ... the gist of this story is about how a good boy got sent away and how the boys at the camp aren't really so bad after all.
or... The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo "I will name him but he will only die like the others.....It is such a disappointment" this is the mother mouse speaking about Desperaux, who - of course - goes on to be the hero of the story.
Example from my own writing: I tried many openings for my novel, With A Name Like Love, and finally settled on the scene where the family is pulling their green and gold teardrop trailer into town. The MC notices how small the town is and makes an assumption it is 'like every other boring town that dots the map...'
This is my line in the sand. It will be overturned.
This town is nothing like any other and her life will change by the time the family loads up their tents and drives back down that highway.
Let me share this slightly painful but important personal experience:
At this conference, I was blessed to mentor under the direction of Patti Gauch (VP/Penguin Publishing). She read my original draft, slid her glasses down her nose, looked up at my hopeful eyes and said, "The words are nice, but who cares? All I can think of is, why would a reader turn the page?"
After picking myself up off the floor, I realized she was right (imagine that!)
An introductory scene that sets the mood but doesn't draw that line in the sand makes the reader say so what?
it does not compel them forward
So, I stayed up all night, rewriting. When we met the next day and she saw my opening, she smiled and said, "Now you understand."
And, I did. I'm not perfect at it, and pounding out a novel takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But, at least I know that pretty words or a snappy scene with friends doesn't work without that line in the sand.
Tell me, what is your line that will be overturned? Do you have it on the first page or two? Are you willing to consider this concept? Or,do you disagree?