Tag Archives: importance of first page

Halt! How to Not Lose Readers on Your First Page

 

When it comes to enticing readers (or literary agents) to read your novel, the first page is extraordinarily important. Many people, including agents, believe that they can tell whether a book is worth reading from the first page. This means that your first page has to deliver what a reader expects it to.

495969512_f317d59719_oThink about how many times you’ve gone into a bookstore, the library, or onto Amazon in search of the next book you’re going to read. You probably first look at the title and the book cover. If those two aspects draw you in, then you read the blurb. If you’re still interested, you’ll open the book or, if on Amazon, go to the free preview, and check out the first page. If the first page doesn’t impress, then you move on to the next book. After all, why would you stick around to read an entire novel, if the first page isn’t interesting?

So, what can you do to make your first page enticing?

While there’s no hard-and-fast rules, certain elements can help or hurt your first page. Oftentimes, starting a novel with dialogue or weather will not catch readers’ interest. Readers want to picture what is happening. Have you ever read a scene where two people are sitting somewhere and having a conversation? The conversation may be intriguing, but you have no idea where the two people are or what the two people look like? Or, maybe it’s the opposite, where you have so much description that you’re overloaded. You can probably think of a novel where the author spends the first pages describing the weather, the house, the landscape…and nothing else happens. Nothing occurs that sets the scene in motion.

When it comes to writing a novel, readers want and expect the novel to read like a movie. They want scenes to be visual, as if a camera is guiding them.

Why is this?

Because readers want to be immersed in the story. In essence, readers want to be shown a story instead of told it.

How do you go about writing a scene like a movie?

Think about scenes the way a director would. Where should the camera be angled at this moment? Where is every character positioned in this scene? If something happens at point A, how does that effect point B? For example, your two protagonists (sisters) are fighting a gang of five people. The younger sister is stabbed. This effects the older sister’s actions. She may get distracted, and so gets punched in the face. Does the camera catch the younger sister getting stabbed, or is the camera focused on the older sister, so that the older sister, and readers, only hear the younger sister scream? It’s only when the older sister whirls around to look at the younger sister that she and readers realize the younger sister’s been injured.

When combining the camera technique with a novel’s first page, set the scene with a brief camera shot. This shot shows where the character is by using sensory detail. By setting the scene, your readers can follow what is occurring.

Notice that I said, “occurring,” instead of “about to occur.” Begin the first page in the middle of an action. Readers don’t want to be told that something is going to happen; they want to be immersed immediately in what is happening. Here’s a great opening line from Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: “The small boys came early to the hanging.”

This line throws readers into the story. Something morbid is occurring, and a group of children are about to witness a horrendous act that will change their worldview. Readers want to know more.

No matter what, the camera should never feel like it’s stuck in one place. You want to choose the best angle for each shot. A close in view will limit what readers’ experience, while a faraway shot will give readers a bigger picture view. However, while a close in shot will showcase small, vital details, a bigger picture will pass over the details for a more bird’s eye view.

You want readers to notice what you want them to see. Give readers enough information to make them want to know more.

(Photo courtesy of Stephen.)

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That Critical First Page: Grabbing Readers Attention in Seconds

The first page, whether it’s a novel, short story, research paper, proposal, etc., is extremely important, if not the most important page in a piece of writing. The first page paves the way for all the other pages. It’s what grabs readers’ attention, or turns them off.

The first page sets the stakes, tone, pace, voice, and setting. It lays out the mood for the entire piece of writing. If you’re writing about a world that has magic, the first page will have magical elements to it.

Similar to how agents spend about three seconds reading a query letter, readers spend seconds on the first page. If the story hasn’t grasped their attention by the end of page one, they’re unlikely to keep reading.

The first page should:

  • Set up point of view. Is this first person, third person, second person? Is there one point of view, two, three, more? (If you are writing a multiple point of view story, it’s usually better to write in third person.) Is the point of view more limited or omniscient?
  • Article Lead - wide62398472115ew6image.related.articleLeadwide.729x410.115eyw.png1413437505967.jpg-620x349Show setting. A story begins where and when it does for a specific reason. If the opening page shows your protagonist standing, staring out the fourth floor window of a hospital, while it’s raining and the entire world seems a wash of gray, why is she there?
  • Give conflict. This is what’s at stake for the main character. Without conflict there is no story.
  • Establish the protagonist. Is the protagonist female or male? How old is the protagonist? What’s her name? Age? Why is she the protagonist? You don’t have to get into the specifics of what the protagonist looks like on the first page, but readers should know what the protagonist looks like very early on.
  • Present the tone. Is it unhappy, comical, sassy, peaceful, depressing, angry, or hopeful? There can be layers of tone within a story, especially in novels, but the overall tone remains consistent.
  • pacing trIntroduce pace. Pace is the speed at which a story occurs. Look at detective novels, events in that type of book moves quickly. However, in historical fiction, the pace is generally slower. In Young Adult literature, the pace tends to be fast, while in adult works the pace can be a little more unhurried. Does the novel jump straight into action and drama or does it meander there?

Since the first page is so crucial, it won’t be perfect the first time through. In fact, writing the best first page possible probably won’t happen until you know the entire story. So much of making a story suspenseful and surprising is hinting at what’s to come. Sometimes the foreshadowing is obvious, while other times it’s very subtle, but it’s there. And the only true way to hint at what’s to come is to know the entire story, and the better you know your story, the clearer picture you have of all those elements the first page should contain.

How do you go about writing first pages?

(Photos courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald and Fiction University.)