A friend of mine sent me some notes from a workshop they took. They're good suggestions and make sense, so I'm sharing them with all of you. Enjoy.
Jan 5th 2011, Salt Lake library
Notes from Clint Johnson’s Workshop: Beginnings
Main purpose of Workshop: First line of the manuscript and 1st paragraphs
First lines should evoke an emotional response from the reader
-surprise, fear, humor, ect
1st line’s purpose is to sell the reason to keep reading
Reminders: Don’t start at the beginning of the story! This ends up giving huge gaps until PP1 (plot point one, the inciting incident)
Don’t start with the main characters getting to know each other. They should already have strong mixed emotions about one another. This makes for better book beginnings.
Beginnings of Books must have:
1. Perspective to view the world (POV Character)
2. An Idea of the conflict
3. An idea of what is at stake
Preferably all within the first chapter. If so, the reader will follow you through the rest of your book! Character, Conflict, and a Question. Same is true for the first line of your book.
Must have the following within the first line and better established by the end of the first page:
It is a natural human instinct to want to see the conflict presented RESOLVED. This is the #1 reason why readers keep reading! Have this start within the very first line.
--create a visceral feeling for the character
“I did nothing wrong—technically”. Causes doubt?
First line must pose a question. Natural human instinct to want to know the answer—readers will read on to find it. Implied questions work better than direct.
Book Example: “The clocks were striking 13” Creates question with the setting description.
Always introduce abnormal after normal, not before. (It was April, bright and cold, clocks were striking 13). Look for contrast and similarities in your book to create questions.
Caution of quantity of unanswered questions causing frustration. Every question posed must be answered in the story!
3. REVEAL CHARACTER
POV character is the window into the world that the reader feels comfortable with and trusts.
Second Tier of important things
-humor or whit. If you use it in the first line, it is a commitment to continue through the book
-shock or horror
-style or voice
NO NOT USE List (Unless it works!)
1. don’t start with a dialog! Publishers/agents view this as artificially abrupt. Uncreative.
2. don’t start with a Dream or waking up
It is too common vs fresh. Uncertain and distorted
3. NO BACKSTORY in the beginning of the story at all! If you must have backstory in the book, have it later on, and must jump back to tell a story! Otherwise, it creates speedbumps.
4. Avoid lengthy description. In older books, setting was a character and they did it well. It would have its own voice. That doesn’t work anymore—setting is morphing/dying in today’s literature. But don’t leave it out completely either.
Have the character describe the setting! Use their voice, how they would describe it.
4. Don’t use a False Hook!!!!!! Means that the opening scene is something to get reader’s attention, and then the story actually starts afterwards. Ch 1 should have everything to do with the book as much as PP1 (inciting incident) does.
An author sets the rules for the book. Readers don’t get a choice. They have to trust you as you set your book rules starting with line 1. Don’t mislead.