Beginnings – are they easy?

I’ve been thinking for a while (yeah, since June actually) what makes you turn the page? I am still in the middle of a postmortem on Amanda Hocking’s novel Hollowland, the one I wrote about earlier. The one I couldn’t really put down until I had finished. And I don’t even read zombie books! So far I have found out that she ends every chapter with a line that makes the reader ask the question: “What will happen next?” and then turn the page.

(The rest of this post might contain small spoilers for the beginning of Amanda Hocking’s novel Hollowland)

For example the very first chapter ends with:

I didn’t see anything until the zombie dove at Sommer, and she started to scream.

Do you want to turn the page or not? I’d be turning the page faster than I can read. Chapter 2 takes off where chapter 1 ended. And by the time you reach the end of chapter 2 you just want to know what it is that she is watching:

There were definitely zombies, I could see them, but something else made a strange guttural roar. It didn’t really make sense. Then I finally put it together, and I stopped and stared.

And you want to know: What did she put together? And what is she staring at?

Chapter 3 ends with:

Then there was a loud clatter, followed by a gun going off, and Harlow screaming.

Again, wouldn’t you want to read more? Find out why there was a gunshot, and if oh-my-gosh is Harlow hurt when she is screaming?

But this page turning-end-of-chapter is all secondary. How can you get someone to turn to chapter 2 unless they’ve read chapter 1 first? And for them to read chapter 1 you need a killer first line. Amanda Hocking has (again in Hollowland) a pretty good one:

This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.

Don’t you want to read the next line? I do. And as I wrote – I don’t even read zombie books.

One of my absolute favourite authors is John Marsden and he starts one of my favourite books like this:

It’s only half an hour since someone – Robyn I think – said we should write everything down, and it’s only twenty-nine minutes since I got chosen, and for those twenty-nine minutes I’ve had everyone crowded around me gazing at the blank page and yelling ideas and advice.

Why should they write everything down? Who are they? Who is the main person? And why are they all so excited about “writing everything down”? This is from Tomorrow when the war began, by John Marsden, the first book in a series of 7. They are really worth reading!

Killer beginnings are hard to write. I wish I had some advice here, but the thing is that it is all up to the reader to decide what is a killer beginning. For example, I stumbled over this Angel Girl « Pine Bookshelf. The beginning isn’t really killing, but quite interesting.

One of them was a man like any other.

and the next paragraph tells us where this common man is sitting in a flight. Why? And why is the row number and seat letter important? The third paragraph starts:

One of them was a man like no other.

This uncommon man is sitting next to the first one (row number and seat letter). The empty seat next to them is for a third man, but he is on the toilet. The three of them are travelling together. Why? And who is the third as of yet unknown man?

It doesn’t suck me right in, but when I somewhat press on, the questions are there, wanting to be answered and so I must read on to answer them.

Have you come across a book with a real killer beginning? What made you continue reading?

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One thought on “Beginnings – are they easy?

  1. I am glad you pressed on with Angel Girl. It is actually intended to be the middle installment of an action/SF story. However, the intention is to be a character story, with the focus sometimes more on the subtle than the extreme. Yes, we have explosions and stuff, and (eventually) even aliens, but the focus is, above all, on how the characters feel, and what they are learning about themselves, each other, and life in general. Hence, I use a more subtle beginning. If I used a slap-in-the-face beginning, the reader might be expecting a story that is more of a rollercoaster ride, and end up disappointed. Often, the beginning of a story has to not only hook the reader, but also set the pace for the story, because if the pace does not live up to the beginning, then you have a disappointed reader who might not want to pick up another of your books.

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