In which the Octopus provides tips 6 through 8 and a concluding statement.
Our final installment will feature the last three ways of grabbing your reader from the first sentence. Of course there are probably many more in the world worth using but I sincerely hope that these articles have given you some new tools to try when starting a new project. Without further ado, my inklings, I give you the last of our list.
6. Blunt Force Introduction:
“The Landon sisters looked as stately as ever in their matching coffins.”
This has been done a lot, especially in the last one hundred years as literary fiction has become more defined and become the darling genre of the major trade magazines. The author gives you a staunch, unexplained snapshot of either the scenario or the characters and then launches into an explanation. These unadorned splashdowns tend to work better in short stories and occur sometimes even as half sentences, like “He would never.” Well of course you have to ask, “He would never what?” and that’s probably what’s coming next. The main goal of a blunt force introduction is to give a partial view that is either so bizarre or so intriguing that your reader is forced to ask you to continue.
You could practice this by going up to your friends and starting a really promising statement like, “So I saw this guy holding a watermelon,” and then taking a sip on your soda. Take a weirdly long sip and watch as they squirm wanting to know what happened with the watermelon guy. Chances are you’re probably not lying since it’s not uncommon to have seen a guy holding a watermelon.
If I were to add to the example of the Landon sisters I would probably not make them vampires, by the way.
7. The Irresistible Voice:
“Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.” Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)
What makes this introduction so great is that it introduces us to L.M. Montgomery’s voice and style while simultaneously giving us the small town atmosphere of Avonlea. The main character hasn’t been introduced nor has the gist of the plot been suggested. This is a daring choice.
However, for anyone who’s going to enjoy this book they are already feeling the charm of the way it’s being told. The reader continues for the same reason you finish a warming cup of tea sweetened with honey, simply because it is pleasing to do so. For those who this doesn’t grab, I guess it’s not your cup of…well, you get the idea.
Whether it is stark and harsh, lyrical and inviting or something else entirely, grabbing the reader with your style of voice is all about doing something unique that still manages to be aesthetically engaging.
8. Begin at the End:
“Arthur’s back straightened as he felt the bayonet press between his shoulder blades while the canyon stretched out below like a hungry mouth laid wide at his feet; he wondered where he might’ve been today if he had told her no from the start.”
This doesn’t work for every story but you can drive interest with a teaser, of sorts. If your character ends up facing a terrible fate there will naturally be questions about what got them to that point. If you’re reader has questions about what happened or what’s going to happen next after reading your first sentence, you’re doing a good job of driving interest.
Doing this too often in your writing can cause it to lose its punch but so it is with every tip. An octopus must be capable of changing colors and even its texture to blend with whatever rock it hides upon or under. Write like an octopus and you’ll never run out of ways to start a story.
Readers unconsciously make the decision to continue reading, but they consciously make the decision to stop. In order to maintain your reader’s interest as the story progresses you will be prompting them to ask new questions while you slowly dole out meaningful answers to previous questions. A well plotted story has the ability to satisfy a reader while leaving them hungry for more up until the finale which ought to be hugely satisfying if you want them to recommend you to their friends.
However, you’ll never get the chance to offer a thought provoking, engaging experience with your story if they give up on you at page one. Nailing that first sentence is the best way to get your reader not only curious but excited to keep on reading.