In this blog post I will give you 6 tips on how to write a killer first page for a novel.
If you’ve ever attempted to write your own book, then you will be only too familiar with the difficulty of writing your first page. It’s the beginning, the start of the journey; you need to grab the reader and make them interested, but how? The first page is a huge hurdle for any writer to overcome. Get it wrong, and the reader will close the book. Get it right, and you’ll have their attention.
The need to construct a killer first page leads to many common mistakes. The first page of a book is often the most redrafted piece of a writer’s work. If you are struggling with writing your first page, then fear not. In this blog, I’ll give you some top tips on how to go about introducing your novel.
Tip 1: Less is more.
One very common mistake that writers make when constructing their first page, is that they go completely over the top in an attempt to grab the reader’s attention.
As I’ll explain later in this blog, you don’t need to do this. It’s true that your first page needs to be exciting and memorable, but you need to maintain a sense of control over the work. Don’t give the reader too much too soon. Writing is an exercise in control, both over yourself and the reader. You need to control the information that you give them, feed it out drip by drip, instead of throwing it all out on the first page and hoping to make it stick.
An understated intro has just as much value as an overblown and exciting intro, provided it’s written well. Remember that action is meaningless without context. Opening a novel with flying bullets, guns and a car crash might seem good in theory; but if we don’t have a reason to care about the characters involved yet, then it’s not going to work.
Tip 2: Establish your voice.
This mostly applies if you are writing in first person, but is also important for third person narration too. One of my favourite examples of an opening, which immediately establishes the voice of the narrator, is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Take a look at this:
‘It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.’
These are the very first lines in the novel. Immediately the author (Chandler) has told us everything we need to know about the central character, the time of year and the type of person that he is. It’s short and snappy and it gets your attention straight away. There is no long drawn out process of ‘discovering’ information about the central character. We know him immediately. As you’ll discover if you read the rest of the book, the paragraph (with its sarcastic wit) is quintessentially Marlowe (the main character).
It’s a brilliant example of how your first page doesn’t have to be overblown or exciting to make the reader interested.
Tip 3: Action.
On the other hand, there is significant value to making something immediate happen on the first page of your novel. Many crime novels use this technique, to get the reader hooked. Often these books start with the discovery of a dead body, for example:
‘The room was small. It had a wooden desk, a patterned green sofa that matched the colour of the carpet and a leather office chair, on which lay a red moleskin book. There was a steel filing cabinet next to the door and in the corner, a potted plant. Above that there was an open window. A small room, but nice. A very nice room, if you liked dead men on your rug.’
This is an extract from my own book. While it’s not quite Chandler, you can see how I’ve set the scene up to then surprise the reader with the discovery of the body. That’s the first paragraph, and immediately creates a sense of mystery and excitement.
Your first page should BEGIN your story, it should be relevant and interesting and play a part in the novel that is to come. Never ever make your first page ‘just filler’.
Tip 4: Ask a question.
In line with the previous point, it’s important that you ask the reader a question. By this I mean, set a question up with your writing that you can then answer over the course of the novel. This ties in nicely with having an action intro. Reader’s don’t want the whole thing in one go, they want a mystery and something to wonder over whilst they read the book. They want to find themselves asking ‘why did this happen’ and achieve satisfaction from discovering the answer in the rest of the book. If your reader isn’t wondering, they aren’t interested enough to continue. Create a sense of tension.
Tip 5: Be brave.
These days, it’s hard to write something original. Almost every single idea has come, in some part, from something else. However, the best novels, those which are considered ground-breaking, are those that can take these ideas and put their own original spin on them.
Many writers hold themselves back too much in the opening, for fear of scaring away the reader. Don’t be scared to be different!
Remember that you need to put your STAMP on the reader straight away. Grab them and pull them into the book. Set your tone and absolutely own it. Put your very best material into the first pages of the book, and your reader will never put it down.
Tip 6: Avoid the info dump.
This tip isn’t just for the opening, but for the whole of your book. The info dump is fatal. It kills your book, shuts the pages, ruins the experience for the reader. So what is the info dump? Let’s take a look:
‘The year was 3000. Aliens had colonised the planet Earth and Samuel Smith was hiding in his barn. After the aliens invaded, the earth had fallen to ruin. The aliens had come from a planet known as Planet X and had green tentacles, orange teeth and ate humans. They had taken over Earth immediately and killed all the people. Sam Smith was one of the last remaining survivors. He was part of a collective unit known as ‘the rebels’ who worked in collaboration with…’
Are you bored yet? I am!
This is a terrible opening, and not just because of the poor prose. Here, the reader is literally given EVERYTHING in one big chunk. There’s nothing for them to learn. The information doesn’t come naturally or bits and pieces, it’s just thrown out there in an attempt to clarify the setting and time and situation as quickly as possible. This is called ‘info dumping’, and it’s often done when the writer feels that there is a lot of new information to give the reader.
Hint: if you feel you have to info dump, or that there is too much info than can be slowly introduced over the course of the book, then you need to revise your plot.