by Anna Bell
Introductions have to be the most important part of a book, haven't they? After all, if you don’t grab a reader’s attention in the first few pages, how you can you possibly expect to hold their attention for a whole novel? With that in mind, it can make it the hardest part of a book to write and whilst there is no one right way to do it, are there pitfalls you can avoid?
I’ve been paying a lot of attention to introductions recently. I submitted the first half of my novel to my editor for feedback and he suggested I change the introduction. I had actually loved it. I thought it was funny and that it sent the reader flying into the action – hooking the reader in. My editor, however, thought that we needed to know more about the characters’ back stories to realise why the drama was quite so dramatic. Whilst some of his colleagues who had read it liked the introduction as they liked getting swept up, I thought his points made sense. I ended up adding two chapters before it, and now it works so much better. I’ve still hooked the readers in with something else dramatic, but it gives us a greater understanding of the couple at the heart of the story. The old introduction, meanwhile, has become the third chapter, which is a great place for a hook, and it sets up the premise of the main plot.
It’s funny as I’ve now become obsessed with how other books start. I started to read a book today and gave up. I read the first chapter and felt like I was overhearing a private conversation. The characters were talking about an incident that had caused a scandal, but by the end of the chapter I wasn’t any the wiser as to what the scandal was, who the characters were or any back story. I know the author was trying to start the book off with intrigue but it failed miserably. I felt frustrated as a reader because I didn’t feel part of the story. I think there’s a fine line between mystery and investing the reader in the story.
You can also go too far the wrong way. Have you ever read a book where it’s back story over load? Where you feel like you know what the character’s teenage career aspirations were and what they had for breakfast? It’s not necessary to know everything about a character right from the get go, as you don’t want the story slowed down by too much explanation at first.
So what should a good introduction include? In my humble opinion, something dramatic that hooks the reader’s interest, a little bit of insight into the character and both their personality and their back story, and a bit of a nod as to where the story is going. It doesn’t have to be spelled out, but a little signposting of where the novel might be headed is quite nice.
What do you think a good introduction should include? And what introduction pitfalls should be avoided?