B is for Beginning
Today, I discuss writing a compelling beginning for your crime novel, a gripping start that will hook your reader, convincing them to hang on for the rest of the ride.
No matter which genre you write in, you need a chapter one (or a prologue, should you decide to have one) with a ‘wow’ factor. The writing style, the voice, the pace, the story … everything must shine in order to compel your reader to commit to the rest of the novel. This is particularly true in crime fiction, a genre whose readers expect tales of excitement and intrigue. Additionally, there are so many crime novels out there, readers will quickly lose interest if the book’s beginning is not gripping enough, and move on to another writer’s work.
So how do you spice up the start of your crime novel? Here are some suggestions:
Start with a crime
In Oracle, I started with a murder. It shock your readers straight out of the starting blocks, setting the tone for the rest of the story. Perhaps this could be written from the point-of-view of the victim-to-be.
When choosing this scenario, it is important to ask yourself these questions:
- Why should your readers care what happens to this character?
- What have they done to deserve this fate? (To keep your readers guessing, this can be merely alluded to)
- For serial killer fiction: what trait(s) does the victim possess to make him/her the target?
Show the antagonist stalking his/her prey
Labyrinth, the second book I have planned featuring Detective Inspector Kurt Lancer, starts in this way. I enjoy getting into the mind of my killers, and thoroughly enjoy writing from their point-of-view.
Questions to consider that will provide intriguing insights into the antagonist’s personality:
- How do they target their victims? (Again, this can merely be alluded to)
- Does everything go off as planned, or does something unexpected happen (the victim fights back, the gun jams, etc.)?
- How does your bad guy react once the job is done? (This will give excellent insight into mind of the baddie)
Introduce your protagonist in an unusual situation
This is especially effective if you have a really compelling or quirky hero/heroine. Has your protagonist just moved into town, or have they returned after years away? Do we start the story to find the detective in a middle of a gunfight? Do we meet them at a turning point in their lives: finalising a divorce, retiring from the force, burying a child/spouse/loved one?
When choosing this story beginning, ask yourself these questions:
- Why should readers care about this character throughout the book?
- How will this situation stand in the way of your protagonist solving the crime?
Cut straight to a crime scene
You could start at the aftermath of crime, which could also double as an introduction to your protagonist if you show them surveying the scene of crime. A beginning like this will set the readers up nicely for the rest of the story: how will the protagonist solve the crime?
Questions to consider:
- What makes this crime scene so shocking, that you started your story with it? (Was a body horribly mutilated? Did someone famous/important get kidnapped? Has something priceless been stolen?)
- What possible clues are they to be found? (You can plant some genuine evidence, and some red herrings)
- What makes this crime a difficult case to solve? (Are there social/religious/political implications? Is there a cover-up? Is someone ‘high up’ involved/implicated?)
What was your favourite crime fiction opener? Are there any other crime fiction beginnings I’ve missed out?
Pop back here for tomorrow’s installment, brought to you by the letter C. Until then, see what B posts other participating bloggers have come up with here.