Friday, May 27, 2011

7 Essential Elements in the First Page

As we all know, as writers we need to hook our readers into the story as fast as possible – from the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence. In a Sydney Writers’ Festival workshop Belinda Jeffrey, an Australian author of YA fiction, broke down the important elements of the first page.

Keeping in mind it’s difficult to give absolute rules because story will often determine style, first pages should include:

1. A distinctive voice. A unique voice is essential to capture the imaginations of the readers and pull them into the story. Voice will make your novel stand out above the rest.

2. A strong character. Readers will engage with strong and interesting characters.

3. A sense of time and place. This grounds the reader into the story. They should be able to recognise the story’s genre in the first page. These should be markers only. Avoid wads of descriptions.

4. Questions. Don’t answer all the reader’s questions at once. Don’t give them everything they need to know about the characters, the history, the setting. They don’t need paragraphs of backstory. They don’t need -- or want -- everything explained too soon.

5. Intrigue. Similar to the previous point, it’s important to build intrigue to tease the reader into wanting to know more.

6. The point of change. The story should start at the point of change. This change should reflect conflict. Note: the conflict doesn’t have to be explosive.

7. No wasted words or throw-away lines. Keep it tight. Every word should have a reason for being. Try to avoid redundancies.

Can you think of other essential elements in the first page? How many times have you rewritten your first page?

49 comments:

  1. Great reminder! You've nailed the key points.

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  2. I've rewritten the first few lines of my book's sequel about ten times now! Critique partners keeps saying it needs to be stronger and I'm working on it.
    Good checklist!

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  3. That pretty much sums it up, Lynda. Great post! This is one of those that's good to print out, keep in plain view, so you can always be reminded of those key bullet points.

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  4. It's all about number four, yo. So long as you have a reader asking, 'how the heck is this gonna turn out?' You've got your story. :)

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  5. What a great checklist!! And no, I can't think of anything else to add to this - this is fab, thank you. First lines are always something I sweat blood over! LOL! take care
    x

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  6. Thanks for sharing your checklist. Although I've tried to follow those guidelines in my first chapter, I've learned, nothing's perfect. I'm sure there's about fifty more re-writes left in me.(:

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  7. Great checklist. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Great list, Lyn! I have to go ponder them in light of my own novel now...

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  9. Great points! The hardest one for me to learn was starting at the point of change. I used to write pages ... and pages ... of backstory. I'm much better now!

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  10. Another amazing post! I think you've got it covered. I'm going to tweet this.

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  11. No wasted words! The Golden Rule.

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  12. Yes! Start at the right place and be patient--I love the point about not doing too much explaining. I rewrote one of my project's first page too many times to count. For others, I've just constantly tweaked. This is a lovely summary!

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  13. I can't think of anything else - you covered everything!

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  14. This is a great checklist of things to get in that first page. Thanks for sharing, it was a good reminder!

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  15. Great stuff, esp. about grounding the reader in time, space and genre. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Hmm, my first page has bene edited once or twice, but may be entirely changed after reading this! Thanks!

    Duncan In Kuantan

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  17. That sounds like a great list of points to check to me.

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  18. All great points! Really nice breakdown. :D

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  19. No! I think you've hit them all, actually! And it's so true. These are the very elements that make people want to keep going. They've GOT to know what's going to happen~ :o)

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  20. Sounds like you hit all the good points to me! Great post :)

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  21. An excellent list :D I've ended up reworking the first page of stories a good few times in order to make it pull the reader in.

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  22. Great list. I'm definitely bookmarking this post. Thanks!

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  23. An excellent 7 points! Perfect post.

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  24. I've rewritten my first age more than any other. Dozens of times at least.

    I don't know if these are essentials, but also worth considering:

    An eye-catching first line can't hurt.

    Movement. A first page full of abstract thought or general scene setting can be very static and paceless. Even simple activity can lift it.

    Foreshadowing. Most good books, when you reread them, you notice all this stuff in the first few paages that relate directly to how the stor ends. Soetimes this happens naturally, but worth going back after you finish a draft and seeing if you can't connect the start and the end.

    Great post.

    mood
    Moody Writing
    @mooderino

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  25. I can't tell you how many times I rewrite in order to incorporate all those elements! Lots!

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  26. Awesome post. I've bookmarked it for future reference. Thank you!

    Ellie Garratt

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  27. What a fantastic checklist (and comments!). I've bookmarked it too!

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  28. Great post, Lynda. Every point you mentioned is important. I have rewritten my first chapter so many times I have lost count. I hope to still improve on it.

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  29. I don't think I've ever read a memorable first page, and I usually hate first 100 pages of a book :) Don't know why, but it often takes dozens of pages for a writer to develop his story in a normal and likable way.

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  30. Excellent checklist. I can't think of anything to add.
    Karen

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  31. I agree with the points made, but easier said than done;) I can get the first paragraph and page going, but I'm never satisfied with the first sentence...I know that sounds odd. How to get that perfect opening line still mystifies me a bit.

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  32. Great list Lynda.I like your stuff, it's always so concise and accurate.

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  33. Great post!

    Did my comment go through? I'm having trouble with blogger and commenting.

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  34. Great list.

    I've written page one 65 bazillion times. lol Well, maybe not that many, but close.

    I realized today when trying to write a pitch paragraph that isn't crap, that I'd been viewing the inciting incident wrong. I think. Hmm. Maybe i need a walk to clear my head.

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  35. The first word is absolutely critical. And so are all the words following it.

    I've re-written the first page to my first book several times and I'm still not sure it's where it needs to be...which is probably one reason I gave up on that book.

    I think that nearly all of these points should also be present on every page.

    I've heard rules about not starting with dreams or flashbacks (and honestly I've not seen those beginnings done well, so I avoid them).

    It may not be as critical in a book clearly defined as an adult novel, but in children's literature, you want to establish the age of your character as soon as you can (maybe even on the first page).

    http://tademings.blogspot.com

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  36. Thanks for this wonderful post! What can be more important than the first page? If you lose the reader there, it doesn't matter how amazing the rest of the book is. I especially like the one about asking questions - as a reader, that keeps me reading more than anything else. A great voice will do it, too.

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  37. A wonderful essay, you succinctly listed the main points.

    My spouse is working on a YA novel now, I'll see that she reads this.

    Thank You.

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  38. Essential points. I agree that the point of change does not have to be explosive. I like some descriptive detail about my character before that point of change. Not everything, but it's like chatting to people without profile pics on the internet - you don't want to commit to blond only to find out they should be brunette in chapter 4. And I like the point of change to come after the characters are introduced.

    Writing festivals rock.

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  39. I hate writing the first page. It's the only part of a book I dislike writing.

    I can't even tell you how many times I re-wrote the first page of every story I've ever written.

    Jai

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  40. Excellent post. Mood makes some good points too. Though I'd argue 'questions' and 'intrigue' are pretty much the same thing.

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  41. This is a great checklist. Out of all these things, I think voice really nails it for me every time. However, a good mystery and intrigue will keep me reading if the voice isn't strong. I'm in the process of taking notes for revision. I'm sure I'll rewrite my first page a ton.

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  42. Thanks for sharing this great checklist. I'm tweeting this link!

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  43. Not feeling well. Down with flu. Will update my blog when I can (probably tomorrow) and I'll visit everyone as soon as I can.

    Thank you so much for the brilliant comments.

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  44. Lots of good stuff to think about here. :) I think I may have gotten all these elements in the book I have coming out, though purely by accident if so, haha. I haven't always had the best openings. *g*

    When I think about what pulls me in as a reader, all I really need is an interesting character doing something interesting. Waking up in the morning sure isn't it. :P

    I agree that paragraphs of backstory are a turn off. I also find that I'm more likely to be drawn in if there's some dialogue early on. I get a little bored with characters just wandering around by themselves. *g*

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  45. Most definitely a small number of MCs. Too many, and you'll have one very confused reader!

    Happy Memorial Day!

    ♥.•*¨Elizabeth¨*•.♥
    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?
    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

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  46. Fantastic tips - I think you've got everything here!

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  47. A great list! I reckon that the most important elements are the voice of the character/narrator combined with some sort of hook or drive. Done well, it'll set a good tone and pace for the reader.

    One thing that does bug me a bit is when books start off hurriedly, as if the author is trying so very hard to lure me in at the sake of, say, making sense of where our protagonist is, what she is doing, why she is doing it.

    I guess it's more intuition, really, when you know a book isn't going to be all that good from the way it starts out. I suppose this is why I don't like prologues in fantasy books all that much - I know that I'm going to have to sift through a good hundred pages or so just to understand what the hell was going on before the story even began!

    I guess that's another question: prologue or no prologue?

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I'd love to hear your opinion. Thanks for leaving a comment.