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Ignite Your Readers With a Gripping First Page
You want to hook your reader from that first line. In fact, you want the entire first page to grab the reader’s attention so they can’t put your book down. How do you do that?
First of all, study other authors and decide what works and what doesn’t work. What I find works well is a short, bullet-like first sentence, followed by short, almost point form dialogue. Here’s the opening page to my historical fiction/fantasy novel, Queen Mary’s Daughter (Clean Reads, 2018):
LOCH LEVEN CASTLE, MID-SUMMER, YEAR OF OUR LORD 1567
“I am pushing!!” A gasped breath. A grunt and a groan. Then an ear-piercing scream. Silence. Panting. More female voices speaking in French. “Do not forget to whom you speak!!” A snarled retort before another contraction took hold.
“It is far too early!” Screaming. Panting.
“Only five months!!” A whisper.
Writhing. Screaming. Panting. Sweating. And all over again. And again.
“There are two!”
“Do they live?”
A scream. Panting. Another scream. Silence.
Many readers will instantly relate to this scene, but, whether or not they relate to it, isn’t that relevant. What sparks the reader’s interest is wondering why this scene is so relevant to the plot. So, they read further.
This is probably the part of your novel which will require the most work: the most re-writes. I have read some stunning first pages and the result is I couldn’t put the book down. I have also read some dreadful first pages, and only through perseverance have I continued reading and discovered the book had merit. Had I not ventured further than the dreadful first page, I might have missed out on a great story. So, it’s important to ignite the reader’s attention and lure them into your story right from the beginning. You have to get it right; make it strong; invite the readers immediately into your story. I’ve lost count the number of times I re-wrote the opening page of Queen Mary’s Daughter.
The first page has to be strong. Avoid writing a Prologue. Too many authors today start their novels with a Prologue. That’s basically background information that will serve better somewhere in the novel, but not at the beginning. It’s a rather dull way to start a story. Some Prologues are exciting scenes that happen once the plot develops. Then the reader is dragged back to the beginning of the plot in the first chapter. This type of Prologue, I find, is redundant and without purpose. Weave the backstory and the excitement into the plot itself, not as a teaser at the beginning.
Creating tension on the first page will definitely bring the reader right into the story. A random walk at night with your dog might lead to the dead body, but it’s a dull read. Wouldn’t it be more exciting if the story began with the discovery of the dead body? I’ve read some spellbinding mysteries that fall flat on the first page. They drag on the ritual leading to the discovery of the dead body in infinite detail, to the point where the reader wonders if there ever will be a dead body in the story and a compelling mystery to solve the murder. Kathy Reich is the master of a good mystery; her first pages rope the reader right into the plot. Perhaps one of her best first pages (from her novel, Grave Secrets, Scribner, 2002) begins with: “I am dead. They killed me as well.” Right away: tension, mystery, intrigue. The reader wants to know more.
The story, obviously, has some main characters. The most important character of the story, the protagonist, needs to be grounded at the beginning of the novel. After all, this protagonist is what the story centers around, isn’t it?
As I said, this first page will need the most work, the most re-writes. Here’s an excellent opportunity to practice your writing skills. Write several versions of the first page before proceeding with the rest of the story. Why not? After all, practice makes perfect, doesn’t it?
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Emily-Jane Hills Orford