Baby Evil Writers 101: Beginnings Part Two
When you meet a new friend, and they’re nice to you, then you like them. In a book, we can only stand in the shadows and watch to see if we like a character. We notice what they do, how they treat others, how they speak, if they're an asshat—or not.
We judge them. With their actions and dialogue in only a few pages, we make a final decision if we want to spend time in their world. If you don’t believe me, go and people watch at the bookstore. Customers don’t skip to the middle, they look on the first page.
So this is why your beginning is the most important part of the story. If you can’t hook the reader, the rest of the book is a waste of your time. I content edit books for a lot of people and I’ve noticed a few things that happen often enough to be trends.
1. The character is alone. Okay guys, when you’re at the park or the store and you’re say, waiting in a line. Do you watch someone quietly standing by themselves or do you watch a couple talking, or a boisterous family? Now, if you are watching the guy by himself and he’s talking to no one, do you want to hike yourself across the store for a visit with the crazy person? Of course you don’t. People who talk to themselves are dangerous—certainly more so that a couple or a family. If you wouldn’t go right into that book and talk to the character, don’t write it that way.
2. The character is angry, or depressed, or just being a booger-head. We all have friends who have bad days and we have to deal with them and their problems because they are already our friends. If I meet someone and they’re glowering, and kicking puppies, and farting or whatever—the first thought in my head is absolutely not that I want to spend time with them. Oh heck no.
3. The character is responding to someone else. Your main character should be the first one to speak. It is his story. He should be the one to steer the conversation boat. The first thing out of his mouth should be positive. (We like to meet positive people) His first action should be a tiny glimpse into his soul. Is he gallant? He can hold the door open for someone. Is he brave? He could chase a criminal or grab a child out of traffic. Is his family the most important thing in his life? He could call his mom to say hello. Yes, most of these things are kind of boring . But we need to see your main character as a likeable person before all of the terrible things happen to him. If we don’t like him, we could care less if he loses all his money or if he fails a test or if someone smashes his car.
4. The character is looking in a mirror. We don’t need to know what he looks like, we need to know who he is, where he is, what he’s doing, and how he treats people. Don’t insult your reader by thinking that they’re so shallow that they’ll like someone because of their looks. How rude.
Right now don’t worry about the perfect first sentence. Let us meet your character for a page or two before the end of the world happens. Let us like him because that is important.