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Beginnings are hard. We went into that a little bit in Tip #1, and how to hopefully make them less hard—specifically, to immediately give the audience someone to connect to, and a reason to care.
If you’ve done both of those things, you’ll find this step a lot easier. Because it’s all about showing some of your best stuff, early. Like right away early. Here’s the rule for Tip #2:
- “Don’t wait to be good, be good now!”
I read that somewhere, and it basically summed up a lot that I knew instinctively, but hadn’t articulated. I honestly can’t remember where I heard this line (and Google isn’t helpful, so if you know, tell me and I'll link/credit!)—but it’s some of the best advice I’ve heard in a while, and it bears repeating/listening-to.
You know when a lot of books really hit their stride, and glue my eyes to the page/screen? Around 70%, like the last third/act. This is when the tension really ratchets up along with the pace, the stakes are high, and the author usually pulls out all the stops with the gorgeous prose and heart-stopping emotional beats. It makes logical sense, but...
No. Nope. Never as effective as it seems.
Literally, the last (amazing, gorgeous) book I edited did exactly this—and I told the author, you’ve been holding out on me, dammit! Because the whole thing was good, yeah, and I liked it, but I could feel the SHIFT between their “default” writing/world establishment/“setting up,” and their oh it’s on now, it’s serious, welcome to the show!
I tell ya, if I’d read that kind of writing in Chapter 1, it would have instantly upgraded that book from “good” to “oh holy crap if I put this down for one second, I will actually die.”
And that felt like a conscious choice on the author’s part: they wanted to have a distinct moment when the story kicked into high gear. Understandable… but they were waiting to be good.
Don’t hold out on your readers. Show them what they're going to get, immediately. Hook us right out the gate. Be good now.
I know it sounds kind of backwards. You don’t want to show all your cards at once, right? You want to hold something back, so you have somewhere to build to. Because your book is a journey you might argue! It’s about a character’s evolution, how your protag changes from the Average Every-person into the confident and self-actualized hero—and how can you show them at their conquering best if they haven’t gotten there yet?
You don’t have to. Just give us something. A reason to care, and I’ll get into that in Tip #3—but more than that… a reason to look up from the book for a second, and go "holy crap."
I know you have something. A gem of a line, an exciting moment, an interaction that shows your main character/s not at their best, maybe, but a sign of what they could be. You gotta give us that one shiny thing. You gotta make us want more. For story reasons, and for purely practical, solid, monetary reasons.
The one strongest reason why this is so important to consider, even entirely aside from good writing craft, is a (relatively) recent invention.
- The Amazon Kindle preview.
If you’re anything like me, you probably know what this is already—and are a serial preview-er. You want to know you’re going to enjoy the book you spend your hard-earned monies on (buy a book you hate? In this economy?), so you’re going to download the sample and check that out first.
And if you’re even more like me, you’ve probably read a metric crapton of Kindle samples, weren’t grabbed by them, and unceremoniously deleted them from your device. (Our tastes, they are refined, they are particular, and if you’re me, often require a certain level of Gay.)
The Kindle sample is short. You get usually around the first 5%, 10% of a book if you’re lucky, but definitely no more. That means the first 5% is so vital, just as much if not more important than the actual climax, because your readers’ attention and love hinges on this.
So don’t wait to be good—be good now. Because it’s just good storytelling, and also, if you don’t, nobody will read past the sample, or see any of the really good sh*t the rest of your book contains!
* * *
And that’s all for #2! I’ll be back with another tip soon! (And speaking of tips, if I’ve made your writing life easier or day brighter, let me direct you to that friendly button right up there…)