Friday, February 26, 2010

Beginnings - Sarah Morgan

Thanks to Lee for inviting me over here today.

The more I read – and write – the more convinced I become of the importance of beginnings. First impressions count, even more so when there are now so many books vying for our attention. So how do you select a book from the hundreds of new ones that are released every month? What makes you put one back on the shelf but take another to the checkout, or ‘browse the book’ online but then click on something different? When I’m choosing a book I read the back cover copy and I always, always read the first page. Those first few lines are important to me. They tell me a lot about the style of the story and the voice of the author. Sometimes when I ask someone about a book they’ll say ‘I haven’t got into it yet’ or ‘it’s a bit slow’. What they’re really saying, of course, is that the book hasn’t gripped them. And for an author, that’s dangerous. Maybe that reader will stay with the story regardless, but what if they don’t? They might decide that life is too short to stick with a book they’re not excited about reading and put it aside in favour of another one that grabs them right from the beginning. And then you’ve lost them...

I keep all this in mind when I’m writing my own books and try to remember that the first few pages may be my only chance to hook a new reader. This is especially true when writing in a short format like Harlequin Presents. Every word has to count.

So what makes that first chapter special?

For me, it’s being plunged straight into the action. Whether it’s emotional, physical or both, something important needs to be happening, right from the first page. The reader needs to be sucked straight into the story. If it’s a Harlequin Presents then there’s going to be plenty of passion and I don’t necessarily mean the lip-locking variety (although maybe that too!) – I’m really talking about high emotion. The book needs to begin with a situation that is urgent and really matters right now to the hero and heroine – a point of change in their lives.

The books I’ve enjoyed reading most have been the ones that have me rooting for the main characters right from the beginning. What about you? What makes you buy a book?


Caroline Storer said...

Hi Sarah - I'm with you. A book that "hooks" me from the opening page...even the opening sentence is the one that I am going to buy. Caroline x

Sarah Morgan said...

Glad you agree Caroline! It means an author has to think very hard about those first few pages :)

Christina Hollis said...

I'm another one who loves to be thrown straight into the action, Sarah. BTW, I love the phrase 'Destitute Yet Defiant.' She sounds like a perfect heroine!

Linda Henderson said...

I always read the back first to see what the book is about. I usually don't buy the book for the cover or title, unless it has sheikh in the title. I am a sucker for sheikh books. I have been reading the Presents books for years so I tend to buy them anyway.

Sarah Morgan said...

Hi Linda, I agree that the cover and the title doesn't always tell you much. Although having said that my son invariably makes a decision on a book based on the cover :) I have to admit I'm a sucker for Sheikh books, too.

Christina, Destitute Yet Defiant does sum up the heroine in this case!

denise said...

I read the back cover. I also look to other authors to recommend books. If I like that author, I know I will probably like their recommendations.
Look forward to reading your book.

Sarah Morgan said...

Denise, I agree that it helps if if an author you like recommends a book - I take suggestions from my friends, too, if they have similar taste.
Hope you enjoy reading Jessie and Silvio!

Pat Cochran said...

A solid cast with a strong hook
gets me every time! That hook is
usually found in the "blurb" on
the back cover. There have been
few books that didn't live up to
that hook. One that didn't was
"Peyton Place." It took me years
to finally finish it.

Pat Cochran

Anna Campbell said...

Hi Sarah! What a fantastic post. I think you're 100% right. Although I'm one of those weird readers who never reads the first page. And I usually don't read excerpts either - too frustrating if the story gets me hooked and I have to wait for the book to come out! A great story has to have high stakes right at the start - I don't need to see my heroine having coffee or having a nice day at work. I need to be plunged into the conflict right from the beginning. It's such a skill to write a great beginning - one you clearly have in spades, my friend!

Sarah Morgan said...

Pat, yes one definitely feels cheated if the book doesn't live up to the promise of the blurb. I've also read books where the book gripped me more than the blurb suggested it would. I guess then I was buying on author.

Sarah Morgan said...

You don't read the first page Anna? Oh no, that suggests tremendous self discipline. Are you also one of those people who can eat one square from a bar of chocolate and leave the rest for another day? :-)

Having said that I completely agree that the best stories are usually the ones that start in the middle of the action. That way you're swept along right from the beginning.