|Picture Credit: http://www.doorsofperception.com/social-innovation/|
I must start by apologizing that it has been a few weeks since my last post. I have been painting my house and was overwhelmed with just getting the bare minimum done. Now that I have finished that project (and I'm thrilled about how great it turned out) I can get back to my regular routine of posting once or more every week.
Now, let's get back on topic. If you read the classics, you will notice that many of them start with heavy back-story. It's all information that will later add to and enhance the story. The rules have changed for modern authors. Readers want to be thrown into the story. Does back-story still matter? Of course! But don't give it all at once--ESPECIALLY at the beginning.
Look at your first sentence. Does it make the reader die to know more? What about the first paragraph? What about the first page? The whole book should be set up in a way that the reader wants to finish it, but the beginning is especially crucial.
How do you do this?
First, start with a character outside his or her comfort zone. If on the first page the character is comfortable with what he or she is doing, then it is not going to be a gripping beginning. Of course, the intensity is not going to be as high as later in the book because the story needs time to develop, but the reader will feel the tension if the character feels it.
Second, introduce the story problem early. Now, you should not make a big announcement that the character is sad because he or she has this problem. Likely, the extent of the problem hasn't even developed yet. But give hints. In Hunger Games, before the concept of what the hunger games are is introduced, Katniss is already dreading the reaping that will happening that afternoon. In Harry Potter, it begins with an introduction to the Dursleys and immediately names their fear that someone will discover their secret. This fear of the Dursleys is the key motivator that causes them to treat Harry the way they do, and in turn Harry's lack of family is a huge motivator for his actions.
Earlier I mentioned that the beginning is not a place for chunks of back-story. Quite frankly, there is very seldom a place for chunks of back-story. Don't get me wrong, back-story is essential. But give it in small bites and in places that it flows with the story.
While there is certainly more to a book than a fantastic beginning, taking care to grab the reader from the start will put you on the right track.