Have Best Seller Writers Nailed a Tried and True Way to Start A Book?

Have Best-Seller Writers Nailed a Tried and True Way to Start A Book?

There certainly is no “formula” required to kick off a book, but if the writer wants people to read it, we know it has to be good. So just how do some best-seller writers start their books? This is a question serious writers need to answer. I believe it’s a good idea to sit down and analyze books to see how others have done it.

Successful novelists often commence with setting a scene. This is natural because it is also true in informal oral story telling, isn’t it? From the get-go, a friend of ours will usually want to know where the particular event took place. If it is a long, important story, then setting the scene becomes even more critical, and more details will be requested. If you’re telling someone about a crime, the setting is crucial.

So doesn’t it make sense many best sellers begin with details of the setting? And as the setting is given, it usually tells us much about the main character(s).

Let’s look at four popular books to see how the author achieved a great beginning.

1) E.L. Doctorow, who had a long career in the publishing business and has written many novels, starts Welcome to Hard Times with a strong, clever setting that begins with several pages of narrative about a small town in the West. The first character is a villain, who has just come to town and rips open a woman’s dress at a bar. This person, called “The Man from Bodie Flats” is so big and intimidating, you know he’s going to cause torment in this small town.

Doctorow is clever when he describes the dust-covered prairie “flats.” We learn much about the town by the characteristics of the area’s “dust.” We read about how that dust, seen in the distance, reacts to wagon trains and horses and riders as they approach town.

2) In Amazing Grace, Danielle Steel starts here novel with a description of setting—several pages of narrative. The place is the Ritz-Carlton, where a charity banquet is being held. From the first page, her description covers the elegance of the affair, beginning with details of the splendor of the room, and place settings, and the “high caliber” of entertainment.

We learn an important quality of Sarah, the main character in the telling of that setting. “Sarah had organized the event with the same meticulous diligence and precision that she did everything…”

3) In Safe Haven, we are introduced to the main character, Katie, in the first sentence. The author, Nicolas Sparks, uses the setting, a lively restaurant on the ocean in North Carolina, to let us know get to know Katie, who we learn early on has some unknown thing going on in her life that she is hiding. She avoids getting close to other employees so she doesn’t slip up and reveal her true identity. The first several pages are mostly narrative.

4) In Bleachers, John Grisham sets his scene in a Southern town where the residents worship high school football. Neeley, the main character, is not sure exactly why he is going back after 15 years, but as he arrives at the field, there are a bunch of pages of narrative that thoroughly describe how that sanctuary looks and feels like. As it is rolled out in front of us, and we are given Neeley’s reactions, we get the feeling of what it is like for this former All-American to revisit his home town.

I feel a concise conclusion suffices here. If four best-selling writers start out with at least several pages of setting, wouldn’t it behoove me or you to consider taking a similar approach to commencing a novel?

For $2.99 from Kindle, Nook and other Ebooks, “Cows in the Fog” by S.T. Haggerty is avail.

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