First impressions are more important than people agree. I was shopping with my son today for new clothes. He said something very interesting for a teenager. His words – a person decides what you are like within the first 8 seconds of meeting. From there, it is up to you to either change or support this first impression. Very perceptive for a teenager. Teenagers are very intuned to their personal identity when it comes to their clothing. They attire themselves in clothes which make them conform to other teenagers so they feel like they fit in. Of course, there are the teenagers who decide to buck against the norm in order to find their way and stand out from the others. In many cases, these teenagers are also trying to figure out where they fit into the world because they know they do not fit in with everyone else.
So what does a first impression have to do with writing?
If you think about it, first impressions have everything to do with writing. In those first paragraphs, the reader decides whether or not they like the book. If they do not like what they read during those first pages, they will stop reading. Just like a person will not pursue a relationship with a person if they are not impressed by the other person's appearance. The first paragraphs or pages are the clothing of your book. You have to take special care to dress the characters, setting, and plot in such a way as to entice the reader. To excite the reader to want to make a personal connection with the book. Think about this – the books you truly love capture your attention in those first pages. We know it as "the hook". If you can hook the reader in those first words, paragraphs, and pages, then they will read the rest of your book.
So, let's think about the beginning of your book as a set of clothing. What makes up the clothing? Your words.
If you're writing a historical, you open with the year and the location. Think about the number of times you have been to a bookstore. You look at the cover. Are you intrigued enough to open the book? Just like when you are looking at a member of the opposite sex. You see them across the room. Do you want to introduce yourself to them? Do they have the compatible features you are looking for in a partner? The same is true for a book. Think about book covers of today. No more do we have the bodice rippers romance novels became famous for, so today, often there are inanimate objects to allow you to make your own images of the hero and heroine. If there is a picture, many times the faces are nondescript to still allow you to imagine the characters on your own. Then you read the back cover. The blurb on the back further entices you. If you are intrigued by the hero and heroine's GMC, you are now hooked.
So, can you reel them in? Not just yet.
In order to reel in the reader, you need to dress up the first chapter. Build a world so intriguing the person cannot put down the book. Develop your character's traits that make you swoon for the hero and sympathize with the heroine. Do you prefer your hero to look like George Clooney or David Boreanaz? Is he elegantly charming or roguishly handsome? Will his smile melt your heart or will the width of his shoulders make you shiver with desire? All of these things must come through in those first pages in order for you to want to read on. Now, think about the dialogue. The character's personality must come through their dialogue. This helps elaborate on the character's personality. Does he joke or is he serious? Is he perceptive or is he playfully dense? Think about clothing again – all of these traits are like the shirt, pants, and accessories that create that final image of the characters you will fall in love with.
Finally, put all of this together. Create the perfect person. The one person in the world who will walk into a room and make you melt on the spot. That's what a great book will do. You create a relationship with this book. You remember this book. This book becomes your favorite. The book you pick up again and again. Just like the person you want to have a relationship with, the book is the same way. You lovingly maintain this book. You keep it on your bookshelves to read whenever you need to feel connected again. This is the goal of every writer – to create a book that is so memorable, the reader tells everyone about it, keeps it close by, and never, ever lets it go.
In this day and age of eReaders, we all have those books that remain on our shelves. The classic books we read again and again. When you write the book of your dreams, remember you're also writing the book of someone else's dreams.