If only writing fiction were as simple. Instead, a writer must mix plot, character, pacing, editing, sentence variation, and much more and create something the reader will be so enamored with that they can’t wait to turn the page.
While I can’t give you a paint-by-number for fiction, I can give you four things you can count on to G.R.I.P. your reader in your opening chapter.
4 Ways to G.R.I.P. Your Readers
The first page of your book has to grab the reader and not let go. The first chapter serves as emblem of the book as a whole. Readers will often give a reader the first couple of pages to decide if they’re going to continue. If you’re lucky, they’ll give you the first chapter. However, in today’s world, where a reader can change to a different book on their Kindle or Nook with the click of finger, gripping them is even more important than ever.
Any study of first pages and chapters tells us that this can be accomplished in a number of ways. However, the most effective methods can be simplified to four basic ideas, the first letters of which make up the word “GRIP”. Using one of these can offer a great start. A combination can make a book impossible to put down.
1. Generate an emotional response. One way an opening scene can grab the reader is by making them feel an emotional connection to the character. For example, the reader might find themselves sharing the grief of a character, relating to a character’s joking about his or her weight issue, or sharing the terror of the character as they run from danger.
In my books, I want the reader to laugh on the first page. It’s a sort of promise of what’s to come.
Here’s the opening of Making Waves, the first book in the Lake Manawa Summers Series.
If forced to endure Roger Gordon for five more minutes, Marguerite Westing would die. Dead. Gone. Buried. Six feet under Greenlawn Cemetery.
Her parents would need to purchase a large headstone to fit all the words of the epitaph, but they could do it. Money wasn’t an issue, and after bearing this unbelievable torture, she deserved an enormous marble marker complete with a plethora of flowery engravings. She could see the words now:
Here lies Marguerite Westing.
Only nineteen, but now she’s resting.
Strolling through the park with Roger Gordon,
Once full of life, she died of boredom.
2. Rock the reader’s world. Mary Connealy says she tries to start with a bang and this is exactly how she rocks the reader’s world. A writer can do this in any way that surprises the reader and shakes up what they expect.
This is a great way to get the reader’s attention. As soon as possible, though, you’ll need to show the depth of the character and the context.
Remember, our goal in the first chapter is to introduce not just conflict, but a character that the reader cares about. Rocking the reader’s world works so well for Mary because she also draws amazingly engaging characters.
3. Ignite their sense of justice. There’s nothing like a little righteous indignation to make the reader hang on to every word of the scene. We naturally want things to be fair, good, right, and true, and when we see they are not, we read on. We are instantly on the character’s side.
In When Love Calls, I wanted to create this sense of injustice, but in a humorous way. Here’s the opening.
Did she dare?
Hannah eyed the wheeled grocery store ladder resting against the shelves. If she went up that ladder again this week, she might give poor Mr. Reilly heart failure.
Despite the risk of Mr. Reilly’s demise, Hannah wrapped her hand around the ladder’s rung. If the little man had a conniption, that was his fault. He should have kept his shelves better stocked or at least offered to help her. After all, she’d been waiting for nearly five minutes, and her sisters were home waiting for dinner.
One can of stewed tomatoes, and her meager grocery shopping list would be complete. From its position on the upper shelf beyond her reach, the can taunted her with its flashy red label and bright green letters. It practically goaded her to come and get it.
Her gaze darted to the plaque hung from a nail on the center shelf: “Please Let Us Assist You.” She’d be happy to if Mr. Reilly noticed anyone in the store besides the customers with money. As it was, she had no choice but to take matters into her own hands.
Hannah glanced from the sign to the stout, long-nosed grocer. Behind the counter, he continued his chatty dialogue with the banker’s wife, turning a blind eye as her five-year-old son skipped around the mercantile like a child at the fair.
It’s a small injustice, but most of us can relate to a time when we felt we were being treated unfairly because of our lack of money or how we looked. I’m counting on the reader to connect with that feeling of injustice when they read this.
4. Provide a cause to fight for. If a writer can give his or her reader a cause to fight for, they are well on their way to providing a great reading experience for the reader. Done well, you give the reader a reason to join the character in his or her fight.
For example, when you give the reader a man fighting to find his wife’s killer, a doctor who leaves a big medical practice to works in low-income clinic, or a family who’s fighting the railroad to keep their farm, then you give your reader a reason to join your character’s fight.
I just started reading Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley’s new release, The Dance. In the first chapter, the wife leaves her husband. Dan and Gary do an excellent job of making us want this marriage to survive right from the start. That’s our cause, and we’re willing to fight for it right along with the characters.
When we are able to G.R.I.P. the reader, we are reaching them on an emotional level. Whether we make them laugh, cry, or shiver in fear, they are connecting with the reader in the most powerful way possible on a gut and heart level. We allow the reader to make an investment in the character and what happens to him or her.
It may not be a paint-by-number picture, but these four ways to G.R.I.P. a reader will have you well on your way to creating your own masterpiece.
What are you using to G.R.I.P.your reader in your current manuscript? What emotional level are you trying to connect with the reader on? What books have gripped you from the first chapter and not let go?
Bio: A history buff, antique collector, wedding coordinator, and freelance graphic designer, Lorna Seilstad is the author of Making Waves, A Great Catch, and The Ride of Her Life. A former high school English and journalism teacher, she has won several online writing contests and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Lorna lives in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with her husband. They have two children in college and one still at home.
Visit her at www.lornaseilstad.com, on Facebook, on Pinterest, and on Twitter.
When Love Calls
Hannah Gregory is good at many things, but that list doesn't include following rules. So when she is forced to apply for a job as a telephone switchboard operator to support her two sisters, she knows it won't be easy. "Hello Girls" must conduct themselves according to strict--and often bewildering--rules. No talking to the other girls. No chatting with callers. No blowing your nose without first raising your hand. And absolutely no consorting with gentlemen while in training.
Meanwhile, young lawyer Lincoln Cole finds himself in the unfortunate position of having to enforce the bank's eviction of the three Gregory girls from their parents' home. He tries to soften the blow by supporting them in small ways as they settle into another home. But fiery Hannah refuses his overtures and insists on paying back every cent of his charity.
When one of Hannah's friends finds himself on the wrong side of a jail cell, Hannah is forced to look to Lincoln for help. Will it be her chance to return to her dreams of studying law? And could she be falling in love?
With historic details that bring to life the exciting first decade of the twentieth century, Lorna Seilstad weaves a charming tale of camaraderie and companionship that blossoms into love. Readers will get lost in this sweet romance and will eagerly look forward to championing each sister's dreams.
Today Lorna is generously giving away a When Love Calls gift box full of fun stuff including a print copy of When Love Calls and a $10 Starbucks gift card (Hannah Gregory loves coffee).
Just comment and also let us know you want to be entered in the giveaway. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.