This is the beginning of my science fiction book that I am currently writing. I tried to be more specific, but without giving away the full idea. I might have failed at that.
I wanted to know if this opener entices to continue to read. if you have any suggestions, I am more than happy to consider them.

This is just the first draft and I am not finished with it. I just wanted to know if the beginning was good before I continued. Please be critical:

Today was the day; the day that everyone had to worry about. There wasn’t really a name for it, although it was well known. After all, it was the age when a person is legally able to be boosted. Seventeen years old; otherwise known as the Emergence Age.

Most teenagers were afraid. They had the fear of emerging. This would mean that you were compatible with the Booster. Why should you be scared of this? Being compatible with the booster would increase your chances on having to go outside the Divide, into Purgatory. No one wanted that. That was pretty much like tying a rope around your neck and knocking over the chair. Most people saw it this way. Others viewed it from a different angle. There were so many ways that people thought of it.

Me? I didn’t know what to think. No one in my entire family has ever emerged. Was I going to be the first? Or was I just going to be like the rest of my family? No one would know for sure, unless I got boosted and today was the day that I would find out.

A lot of people think that Sector C is a horrible place to grow up in. To tell the truth, it wasn’t that bad. Well I mean, at least it wasn’t Sector D. My sister often refers to this Sector as a dump filled with delinquents and thieves. I, on the other hand, was used to it. Once you know the places to avoid, it’s wasn’t a bad place. It is true that there are a lot of shady characters here, but most of the people here are just poor families trying to get by.


Introducing some kind of mystery is a common technique for hooking a reader's interest, but by itself it feels like teasing: the writer knows something but won't share it with the reader yet. So no, this does not entice me; it annoys me, makes me feel manipulated because your narrator is being deliberately coy. Try combining it with another technique: engage us with the character.

As it is, we know nothing about your narrator. He is a blank emptiness upon which the world imposes itself: we are told about things which happen to him and the people around him, but the one time he ventures an opinion, it is to say he does not have one. If you give us a better sense of your narrator's personality, provide us an opportunity to care about the narrator, then we have a reason to care about the mystery beyond idle curiosity.

If you can make us want to spend more time with the main character, you don't even need a mystery to hook us in.

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  • 2
    Agreed. I'd also point out that the numerous unfamiliar terms in so short a time might be a problem. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 5 '14 at 6:19
  • @NeilFein Yes, that's part of being coy and withholding information: by using words and phrases the author knows we don't have the context to understand, it creates the appearance of being upfront without actually providing information. – BESW Jan 5 '14 at 6:21
  • It's part of a common scifi trope: Enticing the reader with the world the character lives in. But I think we have to buy into the character for that to work. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Jan 5 '14 at 6:26

This beginning does not grip me. Indeed it puts me off. For three reasons: I've had quite enough of books beginning with some dystopian teenage initiation rite. The claim that "this is the day" is completely vague and unexciting. And after the third unfamiliar concept (Booster, Emergence, Divide, Purgatory) I'm completely bored and ready to close the book.

We can't do anything about the first problem. If that is what your story is about, then that's your story. There will be readers who are waiting for the next Hunger Games. But I'd not put this so blatantly on the first page and rather emphasize what differentiates your story from its famous and bestselling predecessors. You don't want to sound like a rip-off.

As for the second problem, your are breaking the show-don't-tell rule. You claim that this is a special day, you even give it a name and report that everybody is afraid of it, but that is not making me afraid. What you need to do, and in the very first sentence, is create an emotion in the reader. If you write genre fiction, the first sentence needs to be the best in your book. I'll come to an easy solution after talking about the third problem.

When I read fiction I don't want to learn vocabulary. There are quite a few successful books out there that are written in some imaginary future English and spill over with foreign terms. There are also many books that feature more characters than a teacher has pupils to learn the names of in his life time. I don't like this type of book, but some obviously do. If you want to grip me, you'll have to be very careful and introduce foreign words slowly and with some kind of mnemonic device for me to remember it by. For example, if there is a Booster, introduce its name when you show what it does. I'll certainly remember what happens, and I'll memorize the name alongside the event. Or, and now we come to the example of the good first sentence, you could give names that are at least partially self-explanatory, like Sector.

When you write about Sectors C and D, I don't exaclty know what delimits those sectors, but since people live there (see how you name the object while showing what happens there?) and since the word sector means something that is closed off, I have an image of some kind of city block that is separated from other such city blocks by some technical means or guards and for some reason that I am curious to learn (see how you evoke an emotion in me?).

What I would do with your snippet of text is delete the first three paragraphs completely and start with the fourth. "A lot of people think that Sector C is a horrible place to grow up in." That makes for a great, gripping first sentence. It makes me curious. Why is it thought to be a horrible place to grow up in? And (see above) why are these people living in sectors instead of towns? Where are we and what kind of world is this? I actually want to read that book and learn more! And the second sentence is great, also. Why is it actually okay to grow up in Sector C if everybody thinks it's horrible? Thieves? Interesting. Used to it? Even more interesting. Now I want to learn about that person, what kind of person he is and how he lives.

It is a common experience that the first part of your first draft is usually rubbish and that you can just delete it completely. Don't rewrite it or work on it, just throw it away. Not the content, of course, you can (and might need to) tell everything about boosting and stuff in the course of your book, but get rid of the warming up that you needed to write to get into your text. These first three paragraphs are like a sportsperson jogging and stretching before they attempt to jump 7 meters. Necessary, but not what we came to see (well, except for those voyeurs on YouTube posting closeups of athlete's asses, but you can satisfy your voyeurs on your writer's blog).

Note, how I assumed the narrator is a boy. I'm not sure what made me think so. Maybe because I'm male I project a male perspective in non-specified characters. Maybe because "he" has a sister, and I'm sort of balancing this. Anyway, make sure that you let readers know right away what gender this person is, but in a natural way. It could be stated in the blurb. Or you could do something like "... horrible to grow up for a girl", though I wouldn't tamper with the first sentence. Make it clear somewhere in the first paragraph.

Finally, somehow the term "Emergence" reminded me of Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (with the titles Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant). I mistakenly thought one of those books had the title Emergence. But when I search on Amazon, I can actually find multiple books with the titles Emergence and Emergent. Look at them and make sure it is not a problem for you that some readers might think of one of those books – or the trilogy by Roth.

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  • When you say that I should change the term "Emergence", do you mean avoid using Emergence as a term in the story or as the title? The title of my book is "The Unlimited" – Nate_Writes Jan 5 '14 at 18:42
  • In the story. I edited my answer (at the very end). – user5645 Jan 5 '14 at 19:57
  1. If this is a day when something culturally important happens, then the culture will have a name to distinguish it (cf. “confirmation”, “bar mitzvah”, “quinceañera”).

  2. Who is the first-person narrator talking to? Why would this audience need to be told about boosting, etc.?

  3. “Others viewed it from a different angle. There were so many ways that people thought of it.” What different angle? What ways? Two paragraphs into the story and you’re already vague: this is not tantalizing but irritating. Furthermore, why should I as a reader care what people think of “boosting” if I don’t even know what it is?

  4. The character that you portray here doesn’t seem to want anything, but is content to just let things happen to him/her and then find out how it goes. This is a weak place to begin a plot.

  5. It wasn’t clear to me how the fourth paragraph connects to the preceding three. On my first reading, I thought that the “dump filled with delinquents and thieves” is Sector D, rather than the Sector C that the narrator apparently lives in.

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I agree with the others here that the beginning is a good idea, but not executed well. I think there are two ways you can remedy this.

First idea. I don't want the narrator to talk to me. Your narrator is trying to tease me by not telling me every important thing I should already know because I live in this dystopian world but don't know because I don't live in this dystopian world. Your narrator leaves me with the impression that he feels very smug about not explaining just the right things.

So instead of telling me, drop in the middle of the action and have your narrator talk to someone, or more than one person, about what's going on.

"Well, kid, you seem pretty cool-headed for a youngling about to get Boosted," the technician chortled.

"Meh, no one in my family has ever emerged, so I don't see why everyone freaks out about getting tested," I replied, hoping I sounded nonchalant even as my palms were sweating.

He laughed. "Last kid said the same thing right before he vanished."

This kind of format helps in two ways. First, you get to introduce new vocabulary in an appropriate context. It is still mysterious what it means exactly, but you've got appropriate clues to begin guessing and they feel like natural context cues rather than something you are purposefully trying to feed me in order to keep me confused. Second, you build your characters.

Second idea. I don't mind your narrator talking to me if he's telling me a story. It's a harder format, but some conversational stories are very engaging. But don't have your narrator tell me about how people generally feel about this generic case of this event. Make it personal.

In this case, I'd want your narrator to fill me in on the stuff that's important to the story, just like you would do if you were telling me about that time you went fishing with your uncle and you completely misunderstood what he meant when he said 'throw him back'.

I grew up hard. Not as hard as some, but harder than most. So you can imagine I was scared as a rabbit when I turned seventeen and there was no one in my family who'd ever emerged. There was always one, you see—in every generation of a family, there was always one who got boosted, and the more of my family who didn't, well, the more likely it would be me.

Now it's true that Emergents have a certain status, and that's enviable, but on the other hand, there's always the danger they will go outside the Divide into Purgatory. I grew up on the streets, and I've seen some things, but Purgatory is a whole other level of unkindness. I can't say that risk is something I'm much willing to take, even given the privileges of being Boosted.

In this case, the vocabulary is introduced with enough context that you can feel how the narrator feels about it. This helps develop the character, and although there is still mystery about what all these terms mean, we hopefully have a pretty clear picture of how the narrator feels about what is going on.

And also, you could blend these two ideas together. In any case, I think the core of the story could be interesting. The rest is just editing.

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I think you're in the right direction. However, the first two sentences are a little bit too general. Basically, what they are saying is this: today is an especial day for pretty much everyone.

A good hooking sentence should provide some information and rise questions at the same time.

Consider this:

Today was the day. Most teenagers were afraid; they had the fear of emerging.

So, in this case, the reader will ask himself/herself: Why were the teenagers afraid? Why emerging is scary?

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  • Despite those two sentences, does this interest you to continue? Thank you for the tip. – Nate_Writes Jan 5 '14 at 6:00
  • @Nate_Writes To be honest, the first paragraph didn't hook me (as I said, I found it too general). The second one did it, though. That's why I suggested the example above. – Alexandro Chen Jan 5 '14 at 6:04

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