“Daddy, are the bad people coming to get us?”
My world changed when my youngest son said these words on the evening of September 11, 2001. At the time, my eyes had been glued to the television news that was repeating over and over the same horrific pictures that included smoke, fire, dust, bewilderment, and fear.
All of these images said just one thing: Would we be the next people to die?
I turned off the television and had an emotional discussion with my son about the terrorist events from earlier that morning. I doubt he forgets the images he saw on television that day. I know I won’t. I know most of us won’t.
These days in the media age, there is so much information begging for attention that you must grab your reader in five or ten seconds or you will lose them forever. You might get one paragraph to do this. More likely you will get one sentence.
So much time is spent writing a novel that is utterly wasted if you can’t get your readers past the first page. You need to start with a powerful message that smacks your reader upside the head with a two-by-four and prevents him or her from being able to put your story down.
Start in the middle, start with power, and introduce conflict right away. Your first sentence is paramount to the success of your story. If you assault your readers with real meat—forget about the milk—in the first five to ten seconds and keep them in your grasp, they’ll stay up to four in the morning just to finish your story.
Unless your name is Stephen King, John Grisham, or J. K. Rowling, you simply can’t afford to slowly build your conflict. You do it soon or your story dies a horrible death before it even has its chance to take its first breath.