|Photos by Paul Greci|
A birch tree, a spruce tree and a saguaro cactus ran into each other at a bar…
I’ve set the expectation here that I’m going to tell a joke. In other words, in the opening line, I have made a promise and the reader expects me to follow through.
Several years ago, when I took a multi-day writing workshop from Jeanette Ingold, one of the things she said was that in the first chapter of a novel you make a promise to your reader.
Part of that promise is created by the tone you set. Part that promise is created by questions you raise. Part of that promise is created by the voice. Is your story a thriller/adventure? Or, is it more introspective? Is it historical? Is it more character or plot driven?
According to my wife, who is an avid reader, and novel writer, the promise in the first chapter is often instrumental in her deciding if she is going to keep reading a book. If she’s interested in the promise the author is making, then she’ll keep reading.
In his book, The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman says this about openings and extending them beyond a one-line hook to encompass the first chapter: “At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come.” He goes on to say, “….don’t write an opening for the sake of an opening, but for the sake of the story that follows.”
Now about that birch, spruce and saguaro…After heated exchanges about the merits of spines versus needles, and sap versus water, and who is better nesting habitat, more fire proof and drought resistant, they all threw up their hands in laughter realizing that even though each one has its strengths and distinctions, in the end, they are really more alike than different.
Paul Greci is the author of Surviving Bear Island, a 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2016 Scholastic Reading Club Selection. Forthcoming in 2018 is the yet to be titled sequel to Surviving Bear Island published by Move Books. In 2019, Paul's first young adult novel, The Wild Lands will be published by Macmillan.