Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Three Ways to Make Your Story Pull Readers In from the First Page

Readers often tell me that my books draw them in from the first few sentences.  This is of course a very pleasant thing to hear, but it’s also no accident—I’ve spent many years refining my technique and learning various ways to quickly engage the reader.  For the benefit of other authors who are learning the basics, I thought I would write a blog post and discuss a few of these techniques in detail.  While I admit it takes practice and finesse to execute them well, the methods are simple enough and can be learned by anyone who aspires to write more engaging fiction.

1.  Open with Enticing Dialogue that Immediately Establishes Tension

My young adult novel, Wild Child, opens with a single line:

“Let’s swim over to the cliffs.”

Dialogue is always attention-getting in itself, but this short sentence also contains two tension building elements.  Cliffs are dangerous in themselves, and swimming “over” to them sounds a bit risky, too, even though we do not yet know who is speaking and where these people are located.

The question is cleared up in the next paragraph, in which we learn that the two characters—one male and one female—are on a lake, lounging on a small boat, and the cliffs are a half-mile away.  That’s indeed a long swim.  More importantly, in this second paragraph we also learn that Kyle, the person to whom Briana is speaking, isn’t at all keen on the idea.

In the next few paragraphs, it becomes clear that the two are both teenagers and that Briana has a reputation for being a “wild ass” and often pushes Kyle into taking risks, even when it’s against his better judgment.  Kyle tries to make excuses, telling Briana that another boat could come along and that the driver might not see them swimming, but she keeps pushing him, calling him a chicken and rousing his male ego.  Although not stated, it’s obvious that Kyle doesn’t want to look like a coward, especially in front of a girl.  He finally gives in.

They’re soon in the water and both swimming hard.  Now we’re fully engaged with the story.  We want to see who’s going to win this “race" to the cliffs, and we’re also worried that something might happen them as they swim across this large, seemingly deserted body of water.

2.  Use a Titillating Prologue to Showcase Your Deliciously Twisted Villain

Book 1 of my Lust, Money & Murder series opens with the line, The man picked her up in Vernazza, a picturesque village perched along the rugged coastline of the Italian Riviera.

From these few words, we already know that a man has picked up a woman, and in an exotic location.  These two facts are enough to pique the interest of the nosy part of us that wants to read on merely to see what juicy things might come next.

And come next, they do.  Sentence 2 reads: From his salt-and-pepper hair, and his lined face, Maria guessed that he was in his early 50s.  The implication here is that the man is much older than the woman or girl, and that he’s buying her.  We read on to find out that our suspicions are correct—he’s “spending lavishly on her,” showering her with drinks, dinner, a dress, shoes...

Now we wonder:  will this approach be successful?   By Paragraph 5, we know it is, and that Maria is a more-than-willing participant in the tawdry arrangement.  When she asks the man’s name, he shrugs it off with, “Are names important, cara?”  All she knows is that he is a businessman from Rome, and she supposes it doesn’t matter.  This is followed by a short paragraph which delivers a bit of the hoped-for “juicy details” (you can read the book to find out—it’s a free download).

But as far as engagement goes, that's all just foreplay.  It's a sneaky method of keeping the reader's attention until we reach the next scene of the prologue—the key scene.  This takes place after our two naughty characters have had a three-day frolic of nonstop sexual and sensual pleasure.  Maria still doesn’t know the man’s name, and neither do we, which makes us suspect that he is up to no good.  Indeed he is...we watch, with a kind of detached horror, as he deftly manipulates her into testing out a large amount of counterfeit bills at a nearby casino and then “rewards” her by shoving her off a cliff (yes, another cliff!) and “into the abyss.”

Nice guy, huh?

Readers tell me that they want to keep on reading the book to see how the hero—whom we have not yet met—will deal with this monster.

3.  Show Your Hero Being Mistreated by the World and Make the Your Reader Sympathize

In my newest series, Passion, Power & Sin, I also used a prologue to depict a colorful and “deliciously evil” villain, one who readers hopefully want to see more of.  In this case, I present you with Ricardo Maya, an egotistical Venezuelan man who lives aboard a 300 million euro superyacht in what can only be described as obscene luxury.  He’s clearly involved in some sort of a scam that is so financially devastating to his victims that many of them commit suicide.  But writing an engaging prologue isn’t enough.  You also have to quickly capture your reader’s attention when he or she reaches the main body of your story..

In the case of Passion, Power & Sin, when we turn to Chapter 1 we are introduced to another character who is apparently living in obscene luxury.  Her name is Heather Bancroft, and she is happily on her way to work in New York City, “floating” along Fifth Avenue in her chauffeur-driven limousine, peering out the tinted windows with pity at all the poor slobs who struggle to make ends meet.  From this description we assume that she must be some high-level executive in Manhattan, or maybe a celebrity of some sort.  We learn that she shops regularly at Tiffany’s and Oscar de la Renta, has a personal trainer named Hanz, and spends her weekends sipping Dom Perignon and nibbling on beluga caviar.

Just as we’re getting sick and tired of hearing about all this extravagance, not to mention feeling more than a little envious of Heather's lifestyle, we find out this is all simply a fantasy she engages in every day to keep her mind off her aching feet as she makes the 40 block walk to work.   In reality, Heather can’t even afford a bus ticket, let alone a chauffeur-driven limo.  When she arrives at the office, we further learn that she occupies a tiny cubicle “wedged between the kitchen and a copying machine” and is nothing more than a low-level assistant at a PR firm who is ordered around like a galley slave.  We also discover that she’s actually from North Carolina, not New York City, and that she recently moved to the Big Apple thinking—wrongly—that she could make enough money to save her mother’s house from foreclosure.

Heather is clearly miserable, but she’s keeping her chin up and doing her best to cope.  The next morning, when she gets a rare chance to prove her true worth to the higher-ups at the company, we are eager to root for her and continue reading to see how she makes out.


These are just three different techniques that I’ve used in my storytelling to grab the attention of readers early-on and keep them turning the pages.  There are many others.

Feel free to steal them.

Note: I offer mentoring, story editing, book cover design, interior layout, and other services to authors, time-permitted. More information here. 

If you found this article useful, feel free to buy me a cup of coffee 😃  click here  - ☕️☕️☕️



  1. Thank you so much for sharing this info with us! It is very interesting and it does give me something to think about as I write my story. I'm most appreciative of your well done work. Keep it up Mr. Wells.

  2. I've been wanting to write for years but never really knew where to begin. Now thanks to you I can begin my journey :)

    Thanks Mike

  3. It's always hard getting readers to keep on reading. If with a simple blog like mine the title and first paragraph are paramount !!


  4. Great insights - thanks for the guidance! (And now I want to read your book! LOL!)