Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A Tale of Two Beginnings by Amanda Cabot

When I first started writing, I was told that writers had three pages to hook a reader. Now, with attention spans shortening and patience dwindling, readers make their decisions more quickly. That’s why it’s not simply important, it’s essential that your first page be so compelling that a reader simply cannot stop.

There are three classic techniques for beginning a story. Dialogue spoken either to or by the protagonist, is a proven way to intrigue a reader, since it provides immediate immersion in the protagonist’s point of view. So too is a single sentence that establishes a situation. That’s why I began my current release by saying, “Someone was watching.” If I’ve done my job properly, my readers want to know who was watching and why.

The third classic is the one I’ve seen misused most often, which is why I want to discuss it in more detail. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to watching movies with their “establishing shots” as the beginning that many of us begin our books with a description. We want readers to know where the scene takes place, what the weather is like, what the overall mood is. That’s why we write openings like:

The rain was coming down in torrents, seemingly endless sheets of water. The streets had turned to muddy paths, and the spring thaws had left potholes which rapidly filled with water. The birds had not returned, nor had the flowers begun to appear. It was early spring, the ugliest time of the year in Clark’s Ford.

What’s wrong with that? As a reader, I have no reason to care about the weather in Alaska. When I pick up a novel, I want to read about characters. More than that, I want to see the world through their eyes. I want to care about them, and pure description does nothing to make me care.

Now, let’s take a look at a different version of that paragraph.

Not even the rain could dampen her spirits. It had been coming down in torrents ever since she arrived, seemingly endless sheets of water that quickly soaked through her cloak and left her feet squishing inside her boots. The birds had not returned, nor had the flowers begun to appear. It was early spring, the ugliest time of the year in Clark’s Ford, and Greta Gunderson was enjoying every moment.

Notice how the first sentence establishes the situation, tells you a bit about the heroine, and makes you wonder why she doesn’t mind the rain. Instead of simply describing the rain, the second sentence now shows you how those torrents affect the heroine. I left the third sentence alone, but the addition of a phrase to the final sentence once again puts us firmly in the heroine’s point of view.

Which version would make you want to continue reading this story?


"...it’s essential that your first page be so compelling that a reader simply cannot stop." via @AmandaJoyCabot #SeriouslyWrite #amwriting

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A young woman with a tragic past has arrived in town . . . and trouble is following close behind

Ten years after her parents were killed, Evelyn Radcliffe is once more homeless. The orphanage that was her refuge and later her workplace has burned to the ground, and only she and a young orphan girl have escaped. Convinced this must be related to her parents’ murders, Evelyn flees with the girl to Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country and finds shelter in the home of Wyatt Clark, a talented horse rancher whose plans don’t include a family of his own.

At first, Evelyn is a distraction. But when it becomes clear that trouble has followed her to Mesquite Springs, she becomes a full-blown disruption. Can Wyatt keep her safe from the man who wants her dead? And will his own plans become collateral damage?

Suspenseful and sweetly romantic, Out of the Embers is the first in a new series that invites you to the Texas Hill Country in the 1850s, when the West was wild, the men were noble, and the women were strong.


Bio
Amanda Cabot’s dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s now the author of more than thirty-five novels as well as eight novellas, four non-fiction books, and what she describes as enough technical articles to cure insomnia in a medium-sized city. Her inspirational romances have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, have garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and have been nominated for the ACFW Carol, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers Best awards. A popular workshop presenter, Amanda takes pleasure in helping other writers achieve their dreams of publication.


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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this important tip with our readers, Amanda! I appreciate how you show the difference an opening can make. Those beginning lines are so critical to capturing the reader's attention!

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    1. Dawn -- I'm glad you found the post helpful. My experience is that we learn best from examples, which is why I always include them in workshops and (as you can see) how-to posts like this one.

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  2. Amanda, I have to admit, I love whats-going-on dialogue right out of the gate. It draws me in and sets the mood so well. Cheers

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    1. I agree. Dialogue is a proven way to hook readers.

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  3. Your example was perfect, set the scene and posed a question right away with the character. I want to know more.
    Hugs, L.A.

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