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How do you start your novel? How important is the beginning of a book?


The Portsmoth Murders by Pauline RowsonBeginnings are extremely important. They are also one of the hardest things to get right. Writers, both novice and experienced, can agonise for hours, days, weeks, maybe months on that opening page, that first paragraph, first sentence, first word even, changing it many times and sometimes getting so hung up on it that the novel never gets written.

It is that first page that grabs the reader, sometimes it is even the first sentence. When we buy a book, or look for one to borrow from the library, we look at the cover, read the blurb, and then the first page. We ask ourselves - is it my kind of book? Do I like the style? Does it draw me in? If the answers are yes then we’ll give it a go. Therefore getting the beginning of a novel (and short story) right is very important.

Here are my top six tips:

Tip No. 1

The best piece of advice I was given, and I can’t recall by whom, was to write the first three chapters, then IGNORE them. DON’T return to edit them but press on with that first draft. Only when that is almost complete, or complete, go back and revise them.

Tip no. 2

This follows swiftly on from number one. Ditch the first three chapters and start the novel at chapter four because that is often where the action starts. It is advice that has served me well and while I won’t always ditch the first three chapters in entirety I will usually edit out the dreary unnecessary stuff and find I am left with one chapter instead of three.

Tip no.3

In your first page answer the basic open questions:

who? - this needs to be the main character;

what? -what has happened or is happening;

where? – is the main character outside, indoors, in a forest, up a mountain, at sea?

when? – is it night, day, sunset, present day, in the past?

A word of caution here, this all needs to be weaved into your beginning in a show don’t tell manner. Examine how quickly you can set the scene?

Tip no. 4

Begin with your main character, and his or her dilemma. The character and the situation must be intriguing enough to make the reader want to read on?

Tip No. 5.

Set the tone of the novel through its narrative, is it a romance, mystery, thriller, adventure, horror or humorous. Does your first page convey the genre? 

Tip no.6

Does that first page immediately set up tension hinting that there will be conflicts ahead? Those conflicts will draw readers in. They’ll want to know what happens next and that will keep them reading.

 Look at these two examples:

The first in my contemporary set Solent Murder Mystery series featuring my tormented detective DI Andy Horton THE PORSTMOUTH MURDERS. Click on the image to enlarge it and read the text.

 The Portsmouth Murders Opening pagee

And DEATH IN THE COVE, the first in my 1950s set Inspector Ryga mysteries click on the image to enlarge and read the text.

 Death in the Cove Opening page

Happy reading (and writing).



MARCH 17TH, 2022 @ 6:04:44 GMT

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