Here's a New Years goal worth putting on your bathroom mirror. "I will put life-or-death trouble in my first sentence."
Don't just tape it up on a piece of paper. Write it in RED LIPSTICK.
I know, I know. How cheap. How trashy. How melodramatic. How difficult.
How necessary. Oh, my, how necessary. Your role model today is no less than Ken Follett.
I've talked about this for a long time - and written about in this blog - and talked about in my workshops and other events - that the world is awash - AWASH - with new books, and your only hope to get noticed is to put major, serious, knock-me-over trouble right up front in your novel.
This tidal wave of new books is, of course, a good thing for readers. It is the direct result of self-publishing taking over the business. I don't need to trot out the statistics here. But there is lots of data that shows that self-published authors now control much of the market. And they represent a huge chunk of the bestsellers, including places on the New York Times list, which is diminishing in importance daily compared with the real action, which is, of course, at the 'Zon. (Yes, the top New York-published authors still kill in the earnings category - although most of the top tier still don't make nearly as much as self-published authors like Bella Andre. And most New York-published authors don't even crack poverty-level income.)
In a world that is drowning in new books, a new, unknown author has only a minuscule chance of getting their book noticed. And the best way is probably to put life-or-death trouble in the first sentence.
Authors always resist. First, because they don't know how to do it. Second, because they suspect it is too melodramatic. Third, because their favorite authors don't usually do it. (But of course, their favorite authors already have an audience who will buy anything they write, and new authors don't have that luxury!)
I've said before that even the most famous authors regularly go back to this guaranteed approach to grabbing a reader.
In December I did a signing at Barn Owl Books in Quincy, California - a really nice book store, by the way - and I happened to pick up the latest Ken Follett blockbuster, A Column Of Fire. As so many browsers do, I opened it to the first page.
Talk about life-or-death trouble. Not just on the first page. Not just in the first paragraph.
A person dies in the FIRST THREE WORDS OF THE FIRST SENTENCE!
So this is our challenge, writers. Get rid of the stage setting. Get rid of the exposition. Get rid of the preparation. Get rid of the stuff that leads up to the stuff that leads up to the part of the story where something serious happens. If Ken Follett doesn't need it, you don't, either!
Ken Follett can tell any kind of story and do it any way he wants. He knows that millions of readers will stick with him through any passage that isn't a rush of tension and excitement. All it takes is his name on the cover to sell books.
His new book is over 900 pages long. Yet he puts life-or-death trouble in the first three words.
Here's the link to Follett's new book: A Column Of Fire
Click on the "Look Inside The Book" feature and read that first, killer sentence.