We’ve been told from day one that, in order to be purchased and read, our novel must have a beginning that hooks the reader. Because of that advice, authors have spent more time on their first chapters, rewriting as many as thirty times. In fact, first paragraphs, even first sentences, get the lion‘s share of our attention.
Smith gives examples of good novel beginnings that are worth studying. Like all writers, I, too, have agonized over beginnings and worked hard to make them grab the reader. Here are a few from my books which I’m especially fond of.
From CHOICES. “Exactly an hour and fifteen minutes after taking off from Los Angeles International Airport, First Officer Reg Humboldt felt the strange vibration.”
From FREE FALL. “It seemed like only yesterday that Jennifer's boss repeated, ‘You're going to drive an airplane down the highway and park it in the middle of the mall?’”
From NORTH BY NORTHEAST. “Haley Parsons stared into the beauty salon's oversized mirror. A stranger stared back at her. The eyes, nose and mouth looked like hers, but the hair made all the difference.”
From STRANGER IN PARADISE. “Dana knew she’d fallen into a dream job. And, like a dream, it could disappear in an instant. Yet, she tried not to think of that. This was Hawaii. This was Paradise.”
From SOUTHERN STAR. "I wouldn't ask Gary Pritchard to captain Southern Star if he were the last skipper left alive in the Bahamas!"
And yet, I think Mickey Spillane said, “The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.” Smith gives examples of endings as well, although, not knowing the rest of the book, it’s difficult to judge them. However, I once won a contest by San Diego Writers Monthly Magazine for the best ending. From DEAD MEN’S TALES, soon to be published. Less than 250 words, here it is:
The client stood, dropped the check on the desk, and left.
I plopped down in the chair and picked up the check. The number itself wasn't that large but some nice zeroes followed. I waved it in Brad's face.
"So are you going to sit around your house being rich?" he asked.
"No, like it or not, as I said, I'm going to become your partner. I think I'm ready to be a private investigator."
"But what about your charity work, your Bridge parties, travel?"
"Oh, I'll still do my charity work and play Bridge, but compared to this business, the other is a little boring."
"You'll have to come in every day, learn a lot, work hard."
"I like hard work when it's really interesting,” I said.
"But it's so erratic: chicken today, feathers tomorrow. And, even when we get clients, sometimes they don't pay on time, or at all."
"I have an independent income." I waved the check again. "And a nice cushion besides."
"Worst of all, it can be dangerous."
I leaned back in the chair and smiled. "Don't be shy, Brad. Tell me what you really think."
He burst out laughing, leaned across the desk and gave me a high-five. "Welcome aboard, Partner."