Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How to Charge the First Page of Your Story

Hook Your Reader Now


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. 


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.


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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

History and the Supporting Character

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

True Romance, Clarence and Alabama, learn story from films

Read to Write

Reading is the inspiration for many writers to begin their own, writing career. For me it was reading and meeting an author when I was five. That's what I want to do, was my childhood thought. Creating stories seemed like such a magical way to live a life.
As an adult, the hard truth hit that having a story idea and creating a story is a path fraught with pitfalls. When I  read my first short stories now, I am embarrassed at how they lacked story. Yep, those old tropes like a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention character revelation, action, description, and a story line that engages the reader.
Yes, there were scenes that even today can bring me to tears, but the story just did not hang together.

What's a writer to do? Learn story.

The best and most lasting way to learn story is to go into other stories.  For fiction writers, there are three excellent ways to experience story.
  1. Read books
  2. Listen to books
  3. Watch films
However many posts (like this one, alas), software and online tools you gather they won't help you as much as diving into other stories.

Focus On Good Writers In and Out of Your Genre

Reading books from the perspective of a writer is much different than as a reader. Once you begin the journey of writing you begin to notice things that an average reader does not.
  • The beginning - the first sentence, the hook, and the setup
  • Character arcs - not just the protagonist, but every character
  • Description - all five senses and what you need to fill in as the reader
  • The all-important Middle - how does the author keep your attention? What are the tension elements?
  • The antagonist - how is the antagonist developed
  • Point of view and why the author chose 1st person or 3rd
  • Tone - is it even throughout? Does it match the genre?
  • The ending
Yes, every element.
As you keep reading, you begin to start comparing your writing--in a good way. Would you use that plot device? Would your character have that flaw?
As you continue reading with a critical eye, you begin to see how writers, even major writers, have flaws. This is where it drags. I don't believe that character would naturally perform that action or say those words.
The more you read, the better you understand story. 

Audiobooks and the Moments in Time

I used to have a book in different rooms--the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room. Now that I listen to audiobooks, I usually have one reading book in the bedroom and listen to audio books on my mobile device.
Applications like audible allow you to listen to books with some very dynamic readers. As you listen to the story, you can bookmark a passage with annotations like fight scene, forest description, interior monolog, deep point of view, etc. These bookmarks help later when you are constructing a certain passage in your story.
Because audio books are on a mobile device you can listen while cooking, gardening, walking the dog, driving and many other activities of daily life that would keep you from sitting down with a book.
I've increased my fiction "reading" since I started using audio books several years ago.

The Basics of Story: Movies

Screenwriters struggle with story basics like how to keep the middle from sagging the same way novelists do. Because films are a collaborative project scripts are the skeleton for the story that allows for interpretation from directors, actors, set designers, lighting engineers, etc. But, story basics are key to a good film.
Unlike a novel which may take hours or days to read from beginning to end, a movie is two hours or less of time. And you can spend this time with friends and family as a diversion from your solitary writing time.
Those two hours are filled with sparks for ideas: plot twists, supporting character arcs, subplots, character reveals, and the crucial elements of story getting from the beginning to the end.
The same is true for film as well as books, watch in your genre and outside of your genre to see how story is constructed.

Books, Audio Books, Film

As writers, we can always improve our craft. Learning from other writers builds an accumulation of skill points that cannot be matched. Balance your writing time by learning from others.

If you are a first time writer, developmental editing can help you strengthen your story structure. Check out my content editing service on Reedsy.
Zara Altair