How to Write the Introduction to a Novel
Smart storytellers know the value of catching a reader's attention from the first chapter and sentence, because readers will put down your book for good if they don't connect with the story. A good rule of thumb for writing a novel is to establish its main characters, premise and setting within the first three pages. If you do the job properly, the reader will get into the story immediately, and can't wait to see how it ends.
Avoid Omnisicent Narration
Immediacy is the goal of any introduction. If you're an untried author, you can't afford to keep readers waiting for the emotional payoff that they expect from your material. For that reason, author Cliff Pickover recommends against structuring your novel around an omniscient narrator who seems to know what everyone else thinks. It's better to stay within one character's head, and let the other characters' reactions unfold through description or dialogue.
Don't Overload Your Narrative
Avoid superfluous material that tempts readers to tune out. Some major turnoffs include long descriptive passages and dialogue exchanges that don't advance the main storyline, says Suzannah Windsor, author of "Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing," on her writesideways.com website. Also, don't introduce too many characters at once. Otherwise, readers won't know who's interacting or talking with whom, which disrupts the flow of your narrative.
Establish Your Story Quickly
A novel's first paragraph is the most crucial, since it introduces the protagonist, or main character. To grab your reader, open during a conflict that the protagonist is experiencing, advises author and editor C.S. Lakin. For maximum impact, give the protagonist a goal to achieve, or an emotional or psychological need to meet. This approach allows you to drop hints of subsequent events, which strengthens the reader's involvement in your story.
Keep It Consistent
Readers appreciate consistent storytelling. Every element of a novel must advance the story, or it doesn't belong there, the Fiction Writer's Connection website states. Once you've written an introduction, evaluate it for elements that don't illuminate any part of the narrative -- such as inconsistent motives or unresolved storylines -- and cut them from future drafts. Don't leave the reader hanging, or else he won't finish your book.
When in doubt, read your introduction aloud. According to Pickover, this method will help determine how natural your dialogue sounds. Good writers let dialogue speak for itself, which only becomes clearer after hearing how your words sound. Ask someone you trust to read your material. Getting a second opinion may also pinpoint other issues, such as awkward sentences or problems with a scene's pacing.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.