One of the most difficult parts of writing a novel is the opening pages. The first paragraphs are equal parts handshake/greeting from your story to the reader, and marketing tool … after all, how many of us true book lovers choose based on the back cover blurb? (Especially these days; back covers have reviews and such. Bring back the blurb!) Or, if you’re a digital book devourer, the quick synopsis is there, but you probably still preview the book. I know I do. I read a few quick sentences to see if I might want to dive in.
So many agents seem to advise a “gotcha” kind of opening, something so grabby that readers feel hooked from the start.
I’m not one of those readers, though. My brain takes a few seconds to absorb those first words, to test the literary waters, and if a story takes off like a low-budget Netflix thriller series, I’m usually not excited. Just bewildered.
My book, Haints, is atmospheric in nature. It’s a fantasy sunk into some of my childhood memories. Its opening pages aren’t exciting. Instead, they’re inviting. Maybe even intriguing. That’s the hope, anyway! But don’t get the wrong idea; there are some exciting, lovely and definitely creepy parts to the story … I’m just giving you a chance to get to know the characters and setting before we get there. Here’s the first paragraph, so you know what I mean:
Haints, Chapter One
Vola and Granny Whitt stood together at the husk of the old woman’s girlhood house. Vola’s young hand in Granny’s gnarled, stiff fingers, they regarded the familiar, weathered-gray boards, the sagging porch. Granite stones from the tall chimney that had been hauled up the Clinch River by traveling masons—stone gypsies, Granny called them—kept on their private migration from sky back to earth, tumbling down only when nobody was there to witness. Granny, who was really Vola’s great-grandmother, was stooped with age, and the rims of her once-piercing irises had faded to gray. What hair she still had was like the wispy clouds streaking the sunset over the ridge. It was the summer of 1996.
I just got proofs of the book back. If you need me, I’ll be re-reading Haints for the fiftieth time, to check for design or copyediting issues.
What about you? Do you prefer a jump-out-of-the-helicopter opening, or something slower?