Novel Writing: First Pages

Writers know well the rule that a novel’s opening pages have to “hook” or grab the reader. What exactly does this mean?
Writing Tip for Today: I’m sure different people would say different things, but for me the opening of a novel must do these things:

  • Present the reader with a character to care about.
  • At least hint at that character’s setting, era and problem.
  • Get us engaged with what the character is doing to get past that problem.
  • Weave action and narrative so the work has kinetic motion from the outset.
  • Contain references to the book’s overall theme, struggle or lesson.

This last one is perhaps the most difficult and may not be in place until the writer is deep into the revision process. The reader doesn’t want everything spelled out, but if the character refers to the arc, premise or theme on the first page, it adds to the reader’s satisfaction at the end of the book. Hinting at the larger theme also gives the reader a direction, a promise, and tells the reader we won’t be wandering around in terms of theme. Instead we’ll have a mission, a puzzle of discovery as we read that fulfills this promise and makes us feel satisfied no matter what the outcome is like for the character.

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 “Novel Writing: First Pages

  1. The ‘hook’ is critical, especially in adventure/ mystery writing. Seems like many authors use a prologue to give the reader a look at what’s to come.

    I’d love to know your thoughts on using and misusing a prologue.

  2. Great idea, James. Prologues are tricky. Fantasy/mystery genres do seem to employ them. Not always to good results, I’m afraid. I’ll make Prologues tomorrow’s topic.

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