Episode #9 of the course How to write best-selling, award-winning fiction by K.C. Finn
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing content and overview and how to sell your book to readers. Now we’re going to look at the tricky business of keeping them reading, and what better way to start than by discussing how to open a novel.
Imagine a woman standing on the very precipice of a bridge. She’s terrified, looking all around her for signs of the people who drove her there. She knows they’ll be there at any moment, ready to capture her again. She climbs slowly over the barricades of the bridge, preparing to jump.
Intrigued? There are so many questions to ask here. Who is this woman? Why was she captured, and how did she escape? Who are the people chasing her down? Why would she rather face death than go back to the place she has run from? These are the kinds of questions that spark excitement in a reader’s mind and encourage them to continue reading until the mysteries are solved.
The world of literary fiction has a big backing from publishers and advertisers, so their audience is already convinced of a “good book” before they even begin reading. This means that writers in the literary vein have the luxury of starting slowly and building up to a gradual story, with plenty of in-depth information at the opening of their books. The more books of this kind I read, the less interested I am in them. I feel that if I have to get through 80% slow build-up to reach 20% interesting plot, it’s a wasted journey. In the new, fast-paced world of digital books, there are thousands of readers who feel the same way.
This is why most genre books begin “in medias res”—a technical writer’s term that means “in the middle of things.” This means that we open with our character already situated in an interesting place or activity and go back to fill in the exposition and details later, either in narration or through flashback-style moments. In genre fiction, this ensures that your audience is immediately interested and involved in the action. Starting them out in this way strongly encourages continued readership and eliminates the dreaded “refund” stage on Kindle!
Now It’s Your Turn
You’ve been grilling your characters and practicing setting your scene, so now it’s time to work on action. Throw your main character into a fraught situation with no warning at all. Open right in the middle of their struggle, then use a technique such as flashbacks to gradually explain how they got there as the action unfolds. Who knows—it may form the exciting opener to your new novel!
Tomorrow is the final day of the course, where we’ll wrap up all that we’ve discovered and I’ll give you some mantras to go away with. These should help you maintain the positive mental attitude you’ll need as you progress on your journey toward best-seller and award-winner status.
See you then!
Read on for some great examples of how the “in media res” approach has worked for classic and modern fiction, as well as other storytelling forms such as video games and cinema.
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