Getting someone to read your book is a bit like getting thrown out of your parents’ house naked: you get literally nothing. You get to make your way with people based on your wit alone, and must win time, money, and food with nothing but words. A daunting challenge, but that’s what getting into the writers’ market means.
The reader has no obligation to keep reading your story. At any point, he or she may but it down and enjoy a variety of free entertainment via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any of the others. It’s a tough market with stiff competition, which means that only the diehards are going to make it as a living.
With a reader, all you have are your words. You don’t know this person: you can’t blackmail them or pay them. You can’t bully, tease, or plead with the world to read your novel. All that you have are yourself, any potential readers, and the words you’ve mulled over half a million times to preserve and perfect.
And all that means is that you have to be good. Damn good. Definitely possible, but you’re up against writers with years of experience and tens of millions of words written. But you probably already know the stakes, and are prepared to deal with them. The question really is this: how to I make something someone wants to read over George R.R. Martin or James Riley?
Well, one thing I can tell you is this: any cool idea will sell itself with a decent opening. The minute your book becomes a chore is the minute your reader pitches it at a wall. For a lot of budding writers, that minute is the first minute–the most important minute of your entire novel.
Which is why a good opening is almost the hardest thing to pull off in writing fiction. The reader is not invested in any of your great ideas, characters, places, societies, or anything else that they don’t know about. And simply telling them about it isn’t likely to make them care, either. A different approach is required.
What is it with girls and small animals? (Subject change? Possibly…) You can take the ugliest critter on the planet, present it to a girl in baby form, and they’ll fawn over it as if it was an anime waifu. Seriously, why does “small” have to be equivocated to “cute” when talking about animals?? Girls mystify me.
It’s like, you might not know anything about that small animal you found under the dishwasher, but it’s content to sit in your hand and not tear your fingers off. Cute, I guess. It’s like girls have some kind of instinctual “cute” sense and are drawn to anything they consider to be so. And let’s not even get started on the obnoxious “ohmigoshitssocuteiwannaadoptitandfeeditandlosemymindoverit” reaction that is…
The reader’s reaction to your characters.
Smooth transition, I know. But the point of so many words and a satirical rant is this: your characters must be drop-dead likeable from page one. You want your characters to be so seductively interesting that the reader can’t help but read on. But time is short: the reader’s attention span may not remain beyond the first few pages, perhaps before. You’ll have to work quickly.
You have five seconds to make me interested. One. Two. Thr–What’s that, you say? There’s been a murder? Eh, that seems kind of–wait, it’s a string of similar murders, all mutilated in the same, horrific way? Well, that’s cool, I guess…There’s an ancient curse on these people, and it’s implied that the hero’s wife knows something about it, but she died years ago? Well, now you’ve got my attention.
Think of it this way: If your middle-aged neighbor whom you hardly know drops his groceries on the bus, you’re less likely to help than if your grown-up daughter had done the same. But what about a pitiful grandmother who walks with a cane, has missing teeth, and is reported to have cancer? It’s a different story if she drops her groceries.
Over time, you can get your reader to perceive your characters’ problems more like the second situation than the first, but in the beginning the best you’ll able to do is the third…or something similar. You’re more likely to care about someone’s problems is that someone is an attractive female rather than a fat idiot. Universal laws of attraction, am I right?
If you’re a human and not a cold, heartless robot, you automatically empathize with people more unfortunate than yourself. Orphans, street rats, and children with abusive family members automatically inspire feelings of empathy with readers. However, be careful not to overplay the reader’s ability to pity characters: too much, and the reader’s suspension of belief will be broken by the realization that the situation is just a tad too sappy.
But the surefire formula remains: introduce likeable, relatable characters ASAP and plunge them into terrible trouble ASAP. That’s your narrative hook, and you can use it to lead readers over to all your interesting ideas, which they’re now more receptive to because of the characters that they are now growing to like.
Simple writing hack: Showing rather than telling is crucial at this stage. Instead of going on a long 48-paragraph origin story, show the character you want the reader to like doing something likeable. Save the origin story until later. For now, saving someone from being run over or beat up will work, all the while making clear the characters’ motivations and quirks.
Best foot forward, y’know? Show everything relevant and interesting about that character within the first few pages, and you’ve got yourself a narrative hook. The better you can do this, the better (and more interesting) you can cram a lot of information into a few pages.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!