Here’s the 9th of our posts on writing tips. Today I’m talking about beginnings. The beginning of your book is very important because it needs to grab your readers’ attention. If nothing much happens for the first ten pages, your reader will lose interest and put the book down. So here are some suggestions for making the start of your book compelling.
1) Start with a life changing event.
Perhaps the heroine is about to become a governess or a housekeeper, or perhaps one of the heroine's relatives has arranged a marriage for her, or perhaps she decides to marry so that she can provide for herself and her family. All of these situations have drama and interest built into them because neither the heroine, nor the reader, knows how she is going to react to her new circumstances and this provides the reader with a reason for continuing.
In romantic fiction, it’s very important to delve into the characters’ feelings, and as life changing events involve deep and perhaps contradictory feelings, you will have plenty to explore. This will allow you, and your reader, to get to know your heroine.
Or you could open with your hero. Giving him a life-changing event will allow the reader to get to know him and important aspects of his character will be revealed by his reactions to difficult situations.
2) Start with some action.
Perhaps the heroine stumbles across a dead body, or perhaps she is running away from something and in doing so she bumps into the hero. A dramatic scene will give you plenty of opportunities to create tension between your hero and heroine. Will they trust each other? If so, why? Will they suspect each other? How will this affect their relationship?
3) Start with a dilemma
Perhaps the heroine has to decide whether to accept a proposal from a man she doesn't love, as she is poor and cannot support herself. Perhaps she has to decide whether or not to accept a job, or whether to sell her family home. Any dilemma will allow you to delve into the heroine’s personality, involving her hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and this will allow your reader to empathise with her.
4) An important characteristic is revealed
Perhaps the hero or heroine does something rash that will have serious consequences for them, and bring them into conflict with their romantic counterpart
5) An unusual but important activity is revealed
Georgette Heyer uses this to brilliant effect in Faro’s Daughter, where the heroine owns a genteel gaming house. Heyer gives good, strong reasons for the unusual situation and her research is impeccable, so that all the details are accurate. The unusual situation forms an important part of the book as the gaming house sets up the main conflicts of the plot. If you’re going to use a similarly unusual opening, then it needs to form an important part of the story, but if used well it can be very compelling.