As a writer, we offer the reader our creativity and talent. We have spent a lot of time learning our craft, and it takes about a solid, dedicated year to write a novel. Readers pay us with their money, and perhaps more importantly, they spend their leisure time delving into our made-up worlds. We all know that anytime we have for ourselves is precious, and I appreciate any person willing to spend some of that time with my book. When I write my mysteries, I focus on the experience that I am offering my readers.
We all judge books by their covers. In real life, I wear glasses instead of contacts because I think it says something about me. Just as my appearance sets up your first impressions of me, my book cover sets up your first impressions of my book. When my cover designer asked for what I was looking for, I sent her the original covers of Agatha Christie novels. I said, “Just like this, except with a French bulldog o it.” I write traditional/cozy stories. It’s a popular trope to have a pet on the cover of a cozy novel. But the old-time feel of the cover image invokes a feeling of nostalgia in my target audience. I promise a softer side of mystery, a classical who-dun-it, and my book cover conveys that.
I would betray that promise if I started my first page with a string of profanities or a gruesome murder. In the beginning, I like to keep it light yet build tension quickly. A character doesn’t necessarily have to die on the first page, but it can be a siren in the distance or even an argument with a loved one. Tension doesn’t have to be life or death. But we all live in a fast-paced world. So I don’t expect my reader to invest too much time with me, if they are thinking, “Maybe something will happen in the next chapter.”
I like to write shorter chapters in the beginning. They quicken the pace. But also, as a writer, I know that I will be presenting my first chapter at readings and festivals. So, I think about those experiences for the audience. Nobody likes a reader that goes on for too long. I want my first chapter to engage my audience members but only offer them a glimpse into my world and my characters.
Next week, we’ll talk about the middle of my books. If I’ve built the tension up quickly, should I keep ramping it up throughout my story? Can I develop my characters in a constant state of turmoil? What is the readers’ experience if I do so?