Friday, March 5, 2010

A Strong Opening--Every Time

Photo by tutu55/StockXchange.com

Fridays mean nonfiction critique group with Mike and Scoti, a.ka. "Brill." Brill is my nickname for Scoti and it's short for Brilliant.

Today the three of us were hashing out how Mike should begin chapter 6 in his work in progress (WIP.) I'd highlighted the first paragraph in gray, suggesting he delete the paragraph. I also posted a comment box off to the side with one word in it: Yawn.

I know, that was not the most subtle of comments.

However, Mike's been with the group for over a year now and he's told us he considers every comment/critique a gift. I just didn't bother to put a bow on my comment to dress it up.

The three of us discussed the importance of hooking your reader at the beginning of your chapter. I reminded Mike how beautifully he ended the previous chapter--and he had! After getting his reader to turn the page from chapter 5 to chapter 6 with such a powerful ending, it was so important for him to start off strong--not with a yawn.

After I explained my reasons for my suggestion, Scoti spoke up.

"Not everybody starts reading a book from the beginning," she said. "I like to go the the Table of Contents and look over the chapter titles. I then go to the chapter that grabs my interest. So, you never know if some readers are going to start reading your book at chapter 1 or chapter 6. That's why you need each and every chapter of your book to start off strong."

I got up from my seat and walked over to Scoti and hugged her. "That's why I call you 'Brill'!"

In all the time I'd heard writers talk about hooking readers in your first page, I'd never heard them address that habit--how some people read haphazardly, skipping from this chapter to that chapter. We can't just assume having a great hook in chapter 1 will ensure our readers will stay with us until we write "The End."

Every single chapter needs to start off strong.

Here's an exercise to try: Take your current WIP. Look at the openings to each chapter. Consider these questions:
  1. Are they all equally strong?
  2. Do you open each chapter the same way?

You want to make sure you vary your openings. Don't open every chapter with a question or a compound sentence or a reference back to the previous chapter. You want a strong hook in every chapter--and you want a fresh hook in every chapter.