As you all know, I research A LOT when it comes to writing! I have a notepad full of tips / advice / things I have learnt / read etc. One thing I have been browsing lately is how to write the important first page of your novel. Your first page can make a reader toss it aside with boredom, or get comfy, and turn that page.
Here are my findings.
Context. Character. Conflict.
Some off-putting factors are: too much detail in setting, no interest in the characters, even a main characters name can put readers off (sad, but true), but most of all….lack of tension gets that book closed. You need to hook the readers, especially if you’re a new author.
1. Your first sentence can make or break you. So, read, read, read, get ideas, show off your writing style, and get it right.
2. Start with your protagonist. Let them know straight away about your main character, their initial surface problem.
3. Make your main character relatable / likeable. Give them flaws, give them thoughts, give them a personality, share their world. This can be a little bit about their family history, their past, their fears, their quirky habits. You don’t want your character to seem like a cardboard cutout. No-one wants to read a story about someone they feel they don’t know. Nor do they care about a character they don’t feel for.
4. Let the reader know the setting. What year is it? What are the whereabouts of your character etc.
5. Don’t try too hard. Don’t write for what’s popular, write for what YOU love writing about, and in a style that you’d like to read, and that comes naturally to you when writing. There’s nothing worse than an author trying too hard to be funny, too clever, using big words to be impressive, etc. If you find yourself doing this, delete and BE YOURSELF. Readers will notice.
6. Avoid using too many words in replacement of the word ‘said.’ Chortled, grunted, mumbled, screamed etc. The readers know you own a thesaurus. (See Stephen Kings notes on my previous blog post.) You don’t want readers to admire your writing, you want them so engaged in the story that they don’t notice what words you use to shape it.
7. Include an incident or catalyst. Don’t try too hard with your opening ‘hook’ though. Yes, you want to grab the readers, but you don’t want to mislead them. Opening with a bomb exploding, or a horror scenario etc when it’s a romance novel may confuse them. Dreams, flashbacks, or writing about something that never appears again in the story, is odd, and obvious you wrote it to shock or captivate, rather than make an important point to the story. Conflict isn’t always best, unless it looks like it should be there.
8. A hint of the protagonist’s core need. Mention their visible goal. What are their needs?
9. Rewrite! Don’t be afraid to delete content if it doesn’t sound right. I have written 4 different drafts on my recent story! Tighten it, delete repetitive parts, add content, check grammar, edit it until you’re really pleased with it. Never be in a rush to get it out there, especially your first page which is the ultimate decider for a reader to continue or not.
10. Prologue or not? Decide whether you actually need it in the story, or are just being lazy, and using it to hook the readers to a gripping part, rather than make the first chapter more interesting.
11. Pick up some books. Read the first page / first chapters. See what’s included, or what’s missing.
12. Ask yourself, would you read on? ‘The more the readers reads, the more you can get them to read’ – Christoper Moore, author.
I found this on a website, and it’s extremely helpful. Here is an opening paragraph and what it details.
I have just one picture left of my mother. It’s 4 x 7, black-and-white, and creased in different places. In it, she is seated slightly hunched, elbows touching knees, arms carrying the weight of her back. I know very little about her life when it was taken; my only clue is written in orange marker on the back. It reads: Me in front of Mike’s on 6th St. 1971. Counting backward, I know that she was seventeen when it was taken, a year older than I am now. I know that Sixth Street is in Greenwich Village, though I have no idea who Mike is.
What do you know about the story from just this much text?
Place: New York City
Tone/Mood: Reflective, remembering, possibly nostalgic
First-person POV narrator: 16-years-old, assumed to be female
Content of text: It’s about a black and white picture of the narrator’s mother.
Mystery: Who is Mike? Why is there only one picture of her mother left?
Audience: Young Adult/Teen to Adults.
What is the first sentence of your WIP / novel, and first paragraph? Please share below.