Picture this. You’re sat in your comfy chair, or in the den you’ve made from your duvet. There’s a piping hot cup of tea next to you and two chocolate digestives ready to be dunked (other beverages and biscuits are available).
You feel the cover in your hands. It’s mostly smooth with some light embossing which creates ridges and valleys for your fingers to fondle. The book has never been read before. The words have never been seen. The paper smells like it always does. The cover is opened. You find the beginning of your next adventure and you jump in.
This is the part that I’m thinking about tonight. The very start of the book. Chapter one. There are many ways to start a book. No right way necessarily, but are there wrong ways?
Clearly, a book has to have a strong opening. It’s what hooks you. When you send out your submission to agents they only ask for the first three chapters, and from that, they decide whether they want to represent you. Three chapters, that’s it. That’s all the stands between you and becoming represented.
And as someone who has sent their novel out into the clutches of literary agents across the country, I am left wondering if I am the author of a book with a good enough hook?
Sometimes books pull me in by a really intriguing opening sentence – I’m fond of description here, but that’s not exclusive. ‘The door shivered’ is just as interesting to me as ‘The beasts are coming’.
Sometimes it’s the fact that it’s written from the protagonists point of view; I love books in first person like The Hunger Games or more recently The Huntress Sea. Narratives where you hear the story from inside the main character’s head puts you right on the front line with them.
Sometimes it’s jumping straight into the action, with a scene like the start of a film or a TV show. I love it when a book starts with someone running – to something or from something.
But then, sometimes, the beginning doesn’t register with me very much at all, and it’s a long and slow build before I realise I am completely caught up with the characters, story and emotion – but something must have held my attention long enough to get me passed those opening chapters; to hook me. What is that something?
Could I be overthinking this? Am I spun out and turned around? Can’t you just enjoy a story? Does the strong emphasis on the first three chapters really have that much of a baring on whether you like the book or not? Or whether a book is deemed worthy of publication? How many chapters do you read before you put a book down because you don’t like it? Does the opening of a book really matter that much?