Saturday, November 14, 2009

How to Open Your Novel Like a Bestselling Author

Great novel openings are as varied as the bestselling writers who write them. And most bestselling authors open differently with each book. Take Dean Koontz for instance. Sometimes he opens his novels with action, sometimes with description, sometimes with an introduction of a memorable character.

Let's look deeper into how Dean Koontz (and other bestselling authors) crafts unforgettable first chapters. Heck, first pages!

The third installment of Koontz's Frankenstein trilogy, Dead and Alive, begins with a description of the weather. In most author's hands, such a beginning would fail miserably. Koontz, however, is no ordinary author.

How does he get away with starting his novel with a weather forecast? Below are a few of his sneaky little secrets.

  1. Koontz starts with "Half past a windless midnight," setting the ominous tone with striking imagery, beautiful language. He continues this throughout the novel.
  2. Koontz uses vivid verbs. Rain does not fall, it "canters."
  3. Koontz uses rhythm and cadence, a kind of musical poetry to entrance the reader.
  4. Koontz describes how the setting is different. Clubs and restaurants that usually stay open late are closed.
  5. Koontz explains (yes explains, this is telling folks!) that a hurricane is coming. This is not your average weather report. This is a problem on the horizon, danger looming loud and big.
  6. Koontz doesn't write like Hemingway (not usually, anyway). Many of his sentences, including the first one in this novel is long, very long. However, he doesn't waste words: he pulls everything he can from each and every word.

In summary, the opening of this novel works because the language is poetic and suggests trouble, problems, change and perhaps even violence. The words draw you in, pull you down the page, unrelenting in their ability to keep you reading.