Aug 7, 2011

Posted by in Blog, Writing Tips | 0 Comments

Writing Tip: The First Five Pages

The opening pages of your novel are extremely important, whether you want to attract the attention of a literary agent, editor, or reader.   In order to craft your first pages to be as good as they can be, you need to be brave, honest, and true to yourself, not unlike a Girl or Boy Scout.  Your merit badge will be the positive results of your hard work.  Okay scouts, here are the suggestions:

1. Prologue

Is your prologue really, really necessary? (Remember the Honest pledge?) Or can you get rid of it? Although some authors, famous ones at that, can get away with having prologues, it’s generally seen as an outdated literary ploy to make up for a slow first chapter.

2. Action

Your opening pages must grab or hook the reader by focusing on an intense and important moment. It doesn’t have to be a save-the-cheerleader/save-the world kind of action, but it could.  Or it could be a smaller moment such as your protagonist deciding if she should talk to that handsome stranger sitting on the park bench reading Proust, in French.  What’s important is that you invest that moment with significance.  The character might be on the brink of change, or making a decision that will affect the people in his/her life. Whatever you open with, show that it’s important to the plot to come.

3. Characters

Naturally, whatever character you opt to focus on should be intriguing.  Show the reader right away why it’s worth spending time with the character. Is she brave, courageous, and selfless? Wonderful. Readers want to spend time with heroes and heroines they admire. Is he devious and sinister and complex? Super.  We love villains who are multidimensional, villains who believe they’re doing right—or who can’t stop themselves from being evil or using clichéd shellfish metaphores (“…wah ha ha the world is my oyster!”).   Interesting characters will pull the reader in.  Use only one character as the hook, then add more later.

4. Setting

Spark interest by selecting an exotic, fascinating, unique, larger-than-life, setting for your opening pages. Render the setting in surprising and distinct detail to lure the reader into your world.   Even if you have an opening scene in a familiar landscape—say, the park again—it’s how you render the scene that can make it amazing and fascinating. Offer details that the reader may have taken for granted, details that are quietly astounding.

5. Pace

The pace or momentum of your first scene will be the force that leads readers into the next page, and the next, and the next. You opening pages should NOT be answering questions about your characters’ quest or your characters’ past. The opening should be asking them. So don’t offer everything you’ve got in your first pages. Tempt the reader to read on to find the answers.

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