Moby Dick. The Hobbit. A Tale of Two Cities.
All have classic beginnings, ones many readers know by heart. And therein lies one of the great challenges of writing: The beginning. The hook. Finding a way to convince people to continue past the first sentence in your Moby Dick length epic in this soundbite world
So are there hard and fast rules to help your catchy first sentence to not turn away readers? There are many recommendations that can keep your first lines from sounding clichéd, as Joe Konrath lists in “How Not to Start a Story.”
After reading his article you may, like I did, start pulling books off the shelf and seeing how many examples of rule violations you discover. There are always exceptions, but many of his points concern avoiding clichés and not boring the reader. Creative writing should be, well, creative. However, be careful to not throw the baby out with bathwater.
Take the “no prologues” rule that many swear by. It isn’t that prologues are bad book structure, rather it’s that many people don’t know how to write one correctly. The Prologue, like a Chapter 1, must kick off your narrative, but it does so while adding some additional layers. Quite often, it’s part of the story that is out of time sequence with what follows. The connections should be clear in the chapter that follows the prologue, or it isn’t a prologue. This, combined with the fact that the prologue must also launch the story, makes execution a little more difficult for the writer. The payoff can be worth it, especially if you also include elements that foreshadow plot points deep in your narrative.
Typically readers could care less how you label your chapters, but a writer can use this old school, traditional structure to set something apart. It’s a subliminal way to place something in your reader’s mind. Ultimately, if your Prologue works as a Chapter 1, it probably isn’t a prologue.
A good one, though, may help pull your reader into your Hobbit hole from word one and not let go.