We've just launched our fabulous Novelicious Undiscovered writing competition and in it we ask for entries of the first 3000 words of your novel. Caroline Hogg, Commissioning Editor at Avon (HarperCollins) AND one of our lovely prize-givers, tells us her must-haves for a great book opening...
Try and make the reader blink
An agent or editor has likely read hundreds upon hundreds of opening chapters. What's going to surprise them in yours? Is it a razor-sharp sense of humour? Powerful emotions? The hint of secrets about to unfurl? Make them blink in surprise and go back to reread something and you'll have hooked them.
Proffread like crazy
Agents and editors also have a sharp eye for spelling, punctuation and grammar. Make sure you check your work several times before submitting and ask a trusted friend to read it too. Fresh eyes are always good at catching simple but telling mistakes.
Don't blame it on the weather man
I think it’s a common temptation to open a novel with a tempestuous storm or hot sticky heatwave to get across an instant feeling of drama. Make sure you're not relying on the weather to do all the work for you though, as this can quickly turn your novel into a wet weekend. It should be your characters and storyline bringing in the drama.
If you’re writing in a genre because you think it’s in demand or the next big thing but it’s actually not your cup of tea, your voice will never ring true and make a convincing read. Write what you love and write it confidently – your readers want to start that first chapter and feel instantly they’re in good hands.
Show, don’t tell
Perhaps the trickiest thing to balance in the opening of a novel is making sure your readers can quickly pick up all they need to know about your characters but without explicitly telling them. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts but redraft, redraft, redraft until you’re painting a fully formed picture subtly and evocatively.
Avon is an imprint of HarperCollins. You can catch up with the latest from Avon at their twitter feed.