Your introduction may be the single most important chapter of your book. It can make a break a reader’s interest, and it’s what potential buyers skim in bookstores before deciding whether or not to invest in your story. It’s a short section, and a few critical elements can transform a good intro into a great opening.
Avoid Laundry Lists
When you introduce your character, world, and plot, you want to share everything with the reader. That’s a great goal, but you need to pace yourself. Otherwise, you may end up with character laundry lists. Telling the audience that your character has brown hair, green eyes, a cupid’s bow, and is physically fit won’t draw readers into your story.
Many of the greatest books ever written don’t feature much physical character description at all. What they do mention directly ties into the story. The trick is to avoid justifying all the details you’re trying to pack into your introduction. “But this will be important later, because so-and-so notices it!” Fine, but unless they’re noticing it right now, it doesn’t belong in your opening.
An Introduction Needs Action
What’s happening? Although many writers talk about rising action beginning after the introduction, you really need to start building the threat and thrill of your narrative as early as possible. Even if the primary drama doesn’t launch until the second chapter, something needs to happen in the introduction. Is your character avoiding a person they don’t like? Are they afraid of something? Maybe they’re competing in a sporting event or have art in a competition.
The action may be mundane or humorous. An argument can draw readers into your story right away, but so can a struggle to make a cup of tea. So long as there is some kind of action – and not just description – you’re on the right path.
Make Characters Immediately Interesting
Who will your readers spend the rest of this book following? They need to care about this person, or at least be interested in them. Your introduction is literally and introduction between your reader and your character. It’s a chance to hook readers and make our readers invested. Is your character funny? Do they notice interesting details? Maybe they’re sympathetic because of a physical or emotional struggle. This is where you showcase that.
Move Forward, Don’t Look Back
Your introduction is the beginning of your story. A beginning shouldn’t be a flashback of everything that has ever happened to your primary character before this chapter. Back story is a challenge in and of itself, but the introduction isn’t the place to put it. Open with what’s happening right now to your character. After all, you chose to write this story, not the tales you’ve consigned to the character’s history. Look forward when you write the opening, and give the character a strong launch into their primary adventure.
Even the best stories with marvelous conclusions rely on a strong beginning. Although all writers struggle with introductions at some point, they rely on some fairly simple guidelines. Beyond that, rely on your individual voice and creativity to weave a captivating introduction no reader will escape.