“At dawn, the sun either shines itself or hides behind clouds, promising what the day will bring. So it is with introductions in stories.” —Ed White
Most agents and editors would balk at the suggestion of a false start intro to a novel. On its own, there’s nothing wrong with an exciting beginning, so long as it’s done well. Then again, the last time I read a false start in a novel was years ago. Is it now a forgotten technique, shunned by writers?
The problem is that false introductions are usually poorly done and give off a flat feeling for the rest of the book. If you’re a writer developing the draft of your novel, then this article is a must for you.
Those First Introduction Paragraphs
The first few paragraphs of a book introduce an author’s style—his or her prose rhythm, subtle insecurities, and other narrative patterns and issues. A book is like an onion; it has layers of emotional and mental components embedded into the prose.
This is especially the case in early drafts, where the author is still figuring out what he or she wants to do with the story. Analyzing one’s writing patterns in drafts can lead to improvement and growth of a writer.
A Handy Exercise on Introductions in Prose
There’s an exercise in this article that I recommend. You examine the first 250 words of your story. Heavily. Dissect it, break it apart, and ask yourself:
- What is the purpose of this introduction?
- Why is it set up like this?
- Is there a hook for the reader?
- Is the introduction short enough for the sake of clarity and pacing, but long enough to express its purpose?
- What patterns does this intro reveal about the book as a whole?
These questions are by no means exhaustive. Invent your own questions and discover how many perspectives and shades of grey your introduction can produce.
The first 250 words are crucial to the rest of your story and should let the reader what they’re in for. Most readers picking up a book at the store—or skimming over it on Amazon—will do this to see if the story interests them.
—In the Reader’s Best Interests of Introductions—
Keeping Introductions to Novels Interesting
I once heard a fellow writer say:
“Stories are like skirts. They have to be long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep things interesting.” —Anonymous
Now, while that might not be the cleverest of examples, he did have a point. Stories, and particularly introductions—since introductions are a significant part of your prose—should be short and sweet, including everything that should be there.
Hooking Readers in the Introduction of a Novel
Here’s a helpful article on hooking readers in the introduction. The author mentions driving the prose with curiosity and conflict—elements that provoke the reader, tempting them to read further.
You can also use internal dialog or exposition to hint at a character’s insecurities, flaws, or other issues. I’m not big on exposition myself—too many writers turn internal narration into a dry monologue that is boring to read through, but that’s a topic for another time.
Stress is…Good for Readers?
Readers love stress and anxiety in a story; they hate it in real life—so, give them what they want, am I right? And do it early on, promising them the reward they will receive if they delve deeper into your story. Dangle that carrot!
Don’t be Afraid to Use False Introductions
Approach your introduction with a sense of clarity and enjoyability for your reader. Have a plan for your intro, and reflect throughout the rest of your book. The promises you make in those first 250 words should come full circle. Otherwise, your introduction is nothing more than a prop that can not—and should not—stand on its own.
—Concluding an Introduction—
Striking a Balance
In summary, an introduction to a novel is a significant part of the writing process. Take your time with it, and review it on a routine basis. Even after your twentieth read through, you may yet discover new insights about yourself as a writer.
Is it long enough to cover everything? Is it short enough to keep it interesting? Does it dangle the carrot appropriately, leaving the reader begging for more?
If you can bond your reader with your main protagonist and the story within the first few paragraphs, then congratulate yourself; you’ve accomplished a feat that most writers struggle with.
Beginnings are always the funniest part of a new story, but they can also be the hardest. I hope this article has provided you with some semblance of wisdom in your writing journey—I’m by no means a professional myself.
Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 😀
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