- 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.
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: