Over the last six months, I’ve been involved in delivering phone books to residences with the Scouts and doorknocking for a charity, so I’ve probably walked up to a couple of hundred front entrances. In that time, I’ve noticed some similarities. (I also noticed that I need to learn how to say ‘No’ – hello, my name is Kerrie and I’m a volunteeraholic!)
Anyway, as I was pounding the pavement, I started thinking about how the opening of our stories can be likened to the front entrance of a house. (Stay with me here…)
- Can you get in the gate? The opening line and first paragraph should hook the reader and make them read on. If they’re put off by the opening paragraph, chances are, they aren’t going to be willing to continue for long.
- There is a meandering path to the front door, or path littered with obstacles – discarded toys, overgrown plants, broken paths etc. Is your story opening littered with too many characters, info dumps or long-winded descriptions? Do you bore your reader or trip them up?
- Can you find the front door? Many houses I didn’t approach because I couldn’t even find the front door. Or there were multiple doors! Something I learnt at the Survivor Submission Island panel at the Fremantle RWA conference was to make it clear from the opening what genre you are writing in. It’s obviously clear to us as writers what the genre is (well, hopefully!) but is it going to be clear to the reader or will they think they’ve picked up the wrong book?
Sometimes the door is there, but not in an obvious spot. Sometimes we need to start the story later than we do – you might need to throw away a few pages until something interesting happens.
I’m sure you can come up with more, but I’ve probably overworked this metaphor enough 🙂
What if you’re not sure if your story is suffering from some of these architectural ailments?
Contests are a great way to get a variety of feedback. Most writing organisations that run contests, such as RWAustralia, RWAmerica and its various chapters, RWNZ etc, all offer contests designed to zero right in on the story opening and whether or not it works.
Good luck making your story’s front entrance as attractive and approachable as it can be!