Have you ever picked up a book and gotten excited after reading the first few chapters only to ultimately realize that the beginning of the book was the best part?
I have. In fact I have seen this across genres. From thrillers where the most menacing scene is in the first quarter of the book to fantasy novels which tease you with promising world building only to make you realize that by the end of the book you haven’t actually learned much about the universe. Finally, books that sizzle with passion on the first few pages, implying romance to be one of the main plots, yet don’t follow through.
As a reader it is very frustrating to be exited about a new book only to realize that the author didn’t live up to the expectations that he or she has set.
As an author it can be the end of one’s career to write a book that drags in the middle and has an unsatisfactory ending. Readers will give it bad reviews, won’t recommend it, and won’t pick up your next work.
So how can you avoid this type of reader disappointment?
Simple. Think of your book as any other good or service to be sold.
Never over promise!
Always over deliver!
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Love scenes:
Does your book feature a romantic scene or a sensual scene in the beginning that could mislead the reader to believe that your book is heavy on the sexual side, when in fact, it isn’t?
- Fight scenes:
Is your action packed hook the biggest excitement of your novel until you get to the final quarter of your book where the main fight takes part?
- World building:
Do you introduce many otherworldly characters (e.g. daemons, angels, vampires) in the first few chapters but do not flesh out/explain the world they live in (e.g. what rules they have to live by, how their morals differ from humans, etc.)?
If you answered yes to any of the above that does not mean that you have to cut your amazing romance or fight scene or reduce your super naturals to just one species. It’s quite the opposite. Romance always sells. Near-death situations keep your reader on the edge of his or her seat. And unique world building can be the beginning of a bestselling series.
However, it is important to keep in mind that as an author you can’t afford to give empty promises. Therefore, you have two options.
If you need to keep your sizzling romance scene, action packed chase scenes and/or introduction of multiple otherworldly species within the first few chapters, ensure that you continue building momentum throughout your book.
If your protagonist kisses a male character while being chased by gangsters in the bad part of town in chapter one, you need to ensure that the rest of the book provides more romance (make-out sessions, sex, etc.) and even more near death experiences (gangsters chase protagonist into a corner, put a gun to her head, etc.)
For various reasons you might find that your protagonist can’t be captured by the gangsters or can’t have sex/end up together with the main male squeeze.
In this case option A wouldn’t work for you and you would move on to option B, namely either decreasing the intensity of your hook by adjusting your already written scene, or creating an entirely different opening scene and putting the heart rate pumping scene closer towards the end.
If you write a YA crime novel you might decide that your protagonist isn’t ready to have sex (at least not in book 1). Instead of an intense kissing scene you could either alter the kissing scene to a flirting scene at the beginning of the book or create a complete different hook and move the kissing scene towards the end of the book.
Same with the chase scene. Instead of being chased by gangsters in the hook, the protagonist could have the suspicion that somebody is watching her or has gone through her stuff. Again the original scene could either be rewritten to fit the tension development in your book, or you could create a complete new opening scene and move your tension filled scene towards the end of the book.
To summarize it is important that as an author you deliver what you have promised your reader. The reader will expect tension to progress upward from your opening scene. If you find that this is not the case with your work, you have to either increase the stakes throughout your book or decrease the stakes in your opening scene, so that you have enough room to amp up the drama.