Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How to Charge the First Page of Your Story

Hook Your Reader Now

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Image attribution ​eflon
The first page of your book is that first impression that doesn't get a second chance. Whether your reader is a bookstore browser or an agent, the first page is the introduction to the story.
Key elements of that introduction tell the reader about the story.

  • Tone - dark, humorous, romantic, historical, etc. The reader is drawn to your writing voice.
  • Character - Who is in your story? What are they like? 
  • Setting - Ground the reader in time and place. Characters, and stories, don't float in space. 
  • Immediacy - Don't dither. Get your reader into the story. Save long descriptions and narrative telling for later, if at all. Plunge them in. The adage for scenes--late in, early out--is primary on the first page. 
This is nothing new. Homer knew how to get attention right away. 

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Homer Knew

​RAGE: Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-- The Greek warlord--and godlike Achilles. Which of the immortals set these two At each other’s throats? Apollo Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored Chryses, Apollo’s priest, so the god Struck the Greek camp with plague, And the soldiers were dying of it.
That's just the first 15 lines of the Illiad. The reader knows the theme: RAGE. Achilles is the character. Bodies rotting. Gods. War. Emotion.
Modern readers may want a different style, but the elements are the same.

Immediacy

If you think immediacy  your first page will draw the reader to keep reading. Get your character in action. Give them something to say. Without being heavy handed or long-winded, show (yes, don't tell) your reader where they are and when. Give your character an obstacle that shows the reader how they react.
Save physical details, long setting description, and thoughtful passages for later. Your goal in the first page is to get the reader into the story as quickly as possible.
Give your reader a taste of your story.
Here's the first passage in The Roman Heir. Do you think it meets first page criteria? Leave a comment.
“You see,” Boethius said, leaning toward Argolicus in a confidential manner, “Rome is a closed community. When someone like you whose family lineage is not from one of the great families of Rome and as a newcomer attempts to take on a centuries-old Roman position, you set yourself up for strife. You are wise to retire, go back to your provincial Bruttia and live as local nobility.”
Argolicus watched from the palatial villa on top of the Caelian Hill gentle snowflakes fall on the city and the forum below. He stood on a balcony where Boethius had led him just minutes before. Behind them loomed a grand study filled with manuscripts and books. Boethius carefully peeled an apple, the skin curling off onto the floor at his feet.  Argolicus knew everything Boethius was saying and they echoed his reasons for leaving. He also knew Boethius, so he waited for him to get to the point.
“The same talents that make you a good judge,” Boethius continued, “hamper your political power. You read people, you consider all possibilities, you listen carefully to all sides, you weigh outcomes. In politics you must make a decision, move quickly, ignore repercussions, and strike.” 

Check Out Your Favorite Authors

Select five of your favorite reads and examine the first page. Identify the elements that brought you into the story...and kept you there.
Here are a couple of mine. The text is copyrighted so go to the Amazon page and Look Inside.
Adrian McKinty - A Cold, Cold Ground
Amory Towles - A Gentleman in Moscow

You may find yourself editing the first page more than once. The best touchstone for your first page is that it brings your reader into the story.

Zara Altair