My latest craft book in the recently released The Writer’s Toolbox series. Here is a preview excerpt from First pages of the bestsellers: what works, what doesn’t and why:
Most authors know that the first few pages of a novel are the most important and the greatest stress in their entire book. The opening scene has to convey so many things that the author often has to rewrite it several times to get it right.
But the first page is particularly important to get it right.
Why? Because if the readers don’t immediately deal with the story, they stop reading. I heard writers say when the first paragraph if you do not access, continue with the next submission. This places an enormous burden on the authors to put their best efforts on the table.
If you’re a bestselling author with a following, your fans could forgive enough to keep some slow or less masterful pages with them to see how your novel develops. And we’ll see a number of first pages of bestsellers that seem to have been carelessly thrown together, perhaps based on the confidence that their loyal readers will be lenient with their judgment.
But I think a creative should never act mediocre. We should all be proud of everything we do, and for us writers that means studying our craft and becoming both masterful word smiths and storytellers.
Many literary agents and acquisition editors complain that, despite the good writing, many manuscripts are missing. They don’t inspire, move or touch the heart – and yes, believe it or not, these people expect this experience at least in part when reading your opening scene.
And they don’t come through this first scene unless they come through your first page. For this reason, I have compiled a checklist for the first page and carried out a comprehensive, albeit subjective analysis of two dozen bestseller first pages. Most of this material comes from my blog “Live Write Thrive” and was published in 2016. However, I’ve added a lot more content to this book to help you create your first page.
In the first few pages, I deal with possible pitfalls: excessive narration and explanation, unimportant details, clogging of paragraphs, lack of interesting actions, POV problems, excessive use of passive construction verbs and uninteresting or uninteresting characters who lack emotions and feelings To wake up readers. These are topics that can plague an entire manuscript, but they are particularly “fatal” if they can be found on the first page of your novel.
But you will also see beautiful examples of what works and why. How writers so quickly evoke emotions – yes, on the first page – and create micro-tension and intrigue so that readers cannot help but want what comes after this riveting first page.
Be sure to download and view my first page checklist on my resource page at Live Write Thrive (and print it out!). This is what I use to “measure” those first pages in this book. Although not all of these elements are presented on your first page, the better they are and depending on the genre and storyline, the better. Here it is for handy reference.
The first page is an indication of the rest
Noah Lukeman in his book The first five pages (published in 2000) says: “… I have read thousands of manuscripts over the years, all of them incredible with exactly the same type of errors. … Authors do that exactly the same things wrong, “I have found that this is correct in hundreds (possibly thousands) of manuscripts that I have also edited and criticized. He further explains that the opening pages point to the rest of a manuscript. That is, the weak or glaring errors or “bad” writing habits found on the first few pages almost always imply that the rest of the manuscript is more of the same.
For this reason, it does not help if an author says something like “Wait until you are ahead” when the story starts rolling. Then you will see how good it is. “No, we’ll probably know how good it is by seeing how good this first page is.
My new book examines why these first pages appeal to readers and involve them in the novel. I use this checklist on the first page to break down the key elements of these effective first pages. Keep in mind that most of what you learn can relate to short stories, memoirs, and other types of creative non-fiction.
It’s about telling a story in a way that appeals to your reader’s brain. To put a brain in alarm mode, a mystery, an element of danger or the inappropriate must cross its path.
It takes work
Large scenes seem to flow effortlessly from the pages of novels, but that’s far from the truth. To create a great scene, a writer needs to consider a variety of principles and goals.
The first pages must be brief and concise and immerse directly in dynamic actions and clues to conflicts. Every word counts, so excessive words and unimportant movements and speech must be eliminated.
Readers want to see the scene and not be taught long stories and explanations. You don’t want to be ordinary and predictable. They want to arouse their curiosity and have their hearts pulled as quickly as possible. You want to bind yourself to a character that fascinates you and faces difficult circumstances.
Authors are encouraged to open scenes in medias res, That means your character has gotten in the middle of something that developed before the scene begins. It takes careful thought to find a strong opening moment where you can present your character. In this scenario, you need to identify your personality, your core needs, and your immediate goal / goal and problem, set the framework, point out a major conflict (if possible and / or useful for the premise), and possibly show and describe other characters in the scene ,
All on the first page? It’s a big job, but great writers can do it. You will notice that not every item appears on the checklist on page 1, but great novels start with most of them.
Regardless of the genre, all novels have to come out with a bang, so that readers can look forward to the first page and hope that the author will keep the promise of an exciting start.
Don’t expect readers to stay close
Unfortunately, far too many novels are slowly beginning with excessive narratives, summaries, background stories and explanations. While this was common and acceptable decades ago, readers today want to immerse themselves in the current story. The challenge for novelists is to find ways to bring a scene with lots of sensory details to life and Introduce a compelling character (usually the protagonist) that readers will be fascinated by everything on the first page,
Remember: you may have the patience to read two, three, or ten pages of a novel before it “really gets going,” but unfortunately many people don’t. A whole bunch of readers (sorry, me too) will stop reading if the first page doesn’t include them. Maybe they give a favorite author the benefit of the doubt and read more pages than usual when they struggle through a sluggish opening. I even read an entire novel from time to time that I didn’t particularly like, just because of my “loyalty” to an author.
But I don’t feel like doing that anymore. My time is too precious to read boring novels.
So keep this in mind when creating your first scene and especially your first page. You can rework at any time, return from time to time and make changes. When you have completed a strong draft, you can polish the first page with a swig. It is so much easier to fill the first page with important thematic sentences, motifs, and even lines of dialogue that you know have a strong impact after writing the entire book.
You can learn important skills from analyzing the first bestseller pages. It’s not just about the first page!
If you learn how to recognize weak writing, fictional errors (such as POV violations), and developing a bluish character, you can recognize it in your own writing. As with the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing Book, this new edition of The Writer’s Toolbox series is a must to become the best novelist you can be!
Get the book HERE in paperback or as a Kindle eBook.
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