The All-Important First Page

As a judge for a writing contest, I’m seeing why so many writing teachers and critics stress the importance of the first page. No matter how lovely the writing, if we don’t at least have a sense of what’s at stake, it’s difficult to muster a strong need to follow the character and his story.
Writing Tip for Today: Open any one of your favorite novels. See if you agree: the first page(s) must hint at the larger theme of the story. Of course, when you read the entire book, you may conclude the struggle wasn’t really what you thought. But at the beginning, a direction/something to root for or care about is imperative. Here are some things to consider:
  • Keep in Mind the Big Picture. The opening should somehow echo the book’s larger theme and hint of its story arc. From a writing standpoint, you may be writing this opening last–since novel writing is often about discovery. Be willing to revise those opening paragraphs to reflect your main struggle or stakes.
  • No Solos. Unless you are very skilled, refrain from keeping your main POV character on stage alone for an extended period at the beginning. Resist the urge to explain where your character is/was before the story starts. In this story, you will release “back story” a bit at a time, on a need-to-know basis. You will not write more than one to three sentences of back story until the reader is firmly connected to the story.
  • Readers Crave Action. Description is nice, and I’m seeing well-written descriptions and inner thoughts. But be careful: The prettiest turn of phrase means little if the characters aren’t interacting, with conflict that relates directly to the larger story goal. If you write mainly in scenes (with dialogue, action and reaction), you’ll keep your readers’ interest far more easily. A novel is not a monologue that tells the reader. A novel is a mental movie that shows the reader. Make sure your first page crackles with showing a story in its larger theme, populated by characters interacting.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “The All-Important First Page

  1. Great advice and good timing for me. Im about to revamp the first chapter on my first MS. This will help. It’s hard to restart something you have stared at for so long!

    Jan

  2. This is so neat. I posted about rejection over at Inkwell Inspirations today, and how to know what your manuscript is missing. Specifically, I concentrated on one of my favourite authors, Janet Tronstad, and how she makes me care for her characters before I realize I even like them.

    And then I opened FB, saw your friend invite, and on your wall is an article about the importance of the first page.

    Well done, God! 😀

    Anita Mae.

    Oh – and great article too, Linda. LOL

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