They say that to have your manuscript read by an actual human being, the first five pages need to hook the reader quicker than a pumpkin spice latte on a crisp autumn day.
While an adult may slog through an entire chapter to get to something good, kids tend to put a book back on the shelf if they’re not hooked in the first three pages. This is probably the reason that many books these days begin with the climax. Instead of a gradual buildup of story, plot, and character, the writer entices the reader with a cliffhanger, and then spends the rest of the story filling in the details.
I’ve started to see many adult novels doing this as well. It’s annoying because it used to be that I could pick up a book, begin reading, and then, to the dismay of my local library, toss it in the ‘donate’ pile if it was too dull. Unfortunately, with these newfangled climactic openings, I find myself reading duds, just to find out what happens at the beginning, or the end, rather.
I used to think it was a cheesy way to write, but now, I admit, I’m kind of hooked on the style, which is probably why my novel for NaNoWriMo this month begins with the climax.
So, I thought I would share the gimmicky, yet strangely compelling prologue of the book I’m writing about a boy who can make clouds come to life.
Charlie Dalton stood at the top of Mount Defiant. Stone gray clouds were stacking themselves in the sky, filling it in slab by slab. The cottony clouds were pushed out like sheep, who upon fleeing the wolf, scatter into the wilderness.
At his feet were the crumbling remains of a civilization that had died out long ago—so long ago, in fact, that nobody knew anything about them. There were only a few ruined pieces of what must have once been a castle. Charlie briefly wondered if those ancient people had been faced with a choice such as his. And if their final choice had brought them victory, or if it destroyed them. Could it be that they had made the wrong choice?
Cries echoed from the forest up to the barren hilltop where he stood.
They must’ve found where Liberty was hiding! he thought, his heart beating more quickly. I told her to leave when she had the chance, but she wouldn’t listen.
Or maybe, his conscience whispered, it was you who wouldn’t listen to her.
But it didn’t matter now.
Charlie sprang forward and climbed up to the only solid remaining structure. The platform at the top of the little tower was breaking apart, like everything else, and Charlie quickly bent down and lifted the mat from the center.
“Home Sweet Home:” the mat seemed to chide him. It was ridiculous, yes, but he couldn’t think of it now. He brushed away the dust and traced his hand over the strange shape etched into the ground. A crashing came from the forest and there was a loud cry. He could hear rapid footsteps coming up the path.
Charlie stood rigidly, tipped his head towards the sky and lifted his hands. The clouds quivered all at once, as if a great unseen wave had suddenly struck it. Then the flat stacks of clouds began to tremble, slowly at first, then more rapidly, like water simmering over a fire.
The sky was dark now. Yet through it, he could see one shape, darker than all the rest. It wasn’t the flat, cold gray of the other clouds, but it was dark, nearly purple, like a bruise on the living sky. Charlie gasped. A sense of dread and despair and power swept over him all at once.
The dark shape twisted itself into a long funnel, thinner than a tornado and laying horizontally just over the horizon. Suddenly, the millions of small dark clouds making up the figure seemed to pour over each other, like a pot boiling over. The shape coiled like a snake, and rose its head, as if to strike. It paused for a brief moment, though it seemed a lifetime to Charlie, and fixed its gaze on the boy.
Charlie felt sick.
Suddenly, the snakelike cloud whipped its tail, and as it rushed towards him, it seemed to grow bigger and bigger.
Charlie thought of Liberty, and her words to him—the words he didn’t want to listen to then, but seemed so significant now: “Be careful what you invite into your life, Charlie, because some things should be left alone.”
The snake was so close now he could feel the moisture from its breath. It paused before him, its mouth open in a hideous snarl.
Yes, Liberty had been right. Calling this thing into the world would be the end of them all.