It happened again.
I read a sample on my Kindle and was completely and totally hooked.
I haven’t read the rest, but I will. So let’s take a look at the first chapter of a commercial high-concept book.
1. Opening line that introduces an initial conflict:
Gazing out at the quiet lake, I know the risk is worth it.
What risk? Will she get caught? What is she about to do? Is it worth it?
Those are all the questions running through my mind after one sentence. The stakes are high in the first line.
2. Imagery and sensory detail and the character’s reaction to it:
Low-rising mist drifts off liquid mountains floating against a purple-bruised sky. An eager breath shudders past my lips.
Jacinda’s excitement is infectious. I connected to her – all the better she is about to do something forbidden.
3. Stretching out moments for full emotional impact:
For several paragraphs we see Jacinda and Azure watching this beautiful sunrise as they anticipate the risk they are about to take. Sounds like it could be boring, but it’s not. It’s milking a moment so I am fully entrenched in the character and the moment. And I know something bad will happen, so I’m hooked. The quiet before the storm.
Later on in the chapter, we experience moment by moment her transfiguration to a dragon and her forbidden flight with plenty of sensory detail and terrific imagery.
4. A little bit of backstory:
This rebellion is partly about getting away from him. Cassian. Always hovering. Always there….I just hate that they’re not giving me a choice.
This wasn’t just any backstory. It showed that Jacinda’s being watched closely and being forced to do something. And immediately, I’m rooting for her. Isn’t that what we want?
5. Hints of character arc:
I breathe fire. The only fire-breather in the pride in more than four hundred years.
Jacinda resents that her pride controls her because of this special ability. She’s being selfish, but it’s totally justifiable and something any teen can relate to.
6. Introduction of danger and go big:
Sophie Jordan again stretches out a moment for full impact. Instead of saying a helicopter appears over the mountain. She goes moment by moment, using sensory detail until the moment arrives when the chopper appears. And it’s not just one helicopter – it’s a bunch. And once Jacinda and Azure are in the trees hiding, a land team appears.
Then more connections are made with Jacinda with this one thought: Is this how it happened with Dad? Were his last moments like this?
7. Show likeable qualities in the main character:
It started with Jacinda leading her friend, Azure, into a rebellious act. We connect to that and respect her spunk.
But Jacinda accepts full responsibility for her actions and decides to create a diversion to save her friend. (Hooked again.)
8. End with a hook:
“W-what are you going to do?” (Azure talking)
I force a smile, the curve of my lips painful on my face.
“Fly, of course.”
We don’t all write high concept stories or want to. But these same concepts can be toned down to fit your manuscript whether it be historical fiction or a literary character-driven story.
Have you seen these same concepts applied in other books? Is there any you need to work on? I’m working on stretching out moments for the full emotional impact, especially in my opening.