Your short story or novel has, at best, only a few paragraphs to grab your reader’s interest. Within minutes, your audience will decide whether or not to keep reading. So it’s vital that your story starts with something memorable, engaging, and effective enough to hold their attention. In the same way literary agents know quickly if a book is for them, the Review Board at Writer’s Relief can also tell almost immediately if a story or novel has potential. Here’s how the first 1,000 words can make or break your story.
What The First 1,000 Words Of Your Story Should Do
Introduce the main character. This may seem obvious—but it’s incredibly important! Your first thousand words should clearly and strongly introduce your character, their voice, and what they want. Introducing a few secondary characters, like the protagonist’s best friend, partner, or enemy, is also a good idea.
Offer backstory—but not too much. It can be tempting to spend paragraph after paragraph on exposition, or catching the reader up on what they missed before the story began. But be careful—you don’t want your novel’s opening to be full of backstory, especially if it’s “told” to the reader through summary, rather than “shown” through subtler methods. Starting with too much backstory will likely make your readers’ eyes glaze over—they want to see action! Make sure enough is happening in your first thousand words to keep your audience turning the pages.
Include some dialogue. Dialogue helps you strike the right balance between summary and action. Writing a conversation allows you to weave in any necessary backstory more artfully. Readers will learn information in real time, which makes them more likely to remember important exposition. It’s also a great way to reveal your character’s unique voice right from the start.
Establish the setting. Your novel’s setting can function as a character in itself, so it’s an important element to introduce. The best openings immerse the reader in the world of your narrative: Where does your book take place, and how does that affect the course of the story? What era are readers in, and what season? What type of culture surrounds your characters? Of course, you should still introduce your characters and some action as you’re answering these questions about setting. It may be tempting to fill your first thousand words with world-building, especially if you’re writing a complex fantasy novel, but remember to include other important elements, or your story will quickly get bogged down in details.
Set the mood. Readers—and literary agents!—should feel immersed in your story’s atmosphere. Quickly striking the right mood and tone will place your story or novel squarely within its genre. This is extremely important when an agent envisions how best to market your book. A sunshiny romance, for example, will have an entirely different feel from a cozy mystery, which will not feel at all the same as a high-stakes thriller.
Sow the seeds of conflict. Every good story has some tension. While you shouldn’t try to set up your story’s entire central conflict in the first thousand words, it’s important to place small hints and subtle clues foreshadowing what’s to come.
After Your First Thousand Words…
If you want to boost the odds of your short story or novel getting published and read, it’s imperative the first 1,000 words grab your readers’ interest. After you’ve written several thousand more words (and edited, proofread, and rewritten to perfection), the next most important element of getting your completed story or novel published is submitting to the right markets! The research experts at Writer’s Relief can help you pinpoint the best literary agents or journals for your work. Learn more about our services and submit your work to our Review Board today!
Question: What story or novel hooked you in the first 1,000 words?