The first page and, more importantly, what is in the first two paragraphs of your book is probably the most crucial writing you can do. This part needs to introduce your main character, your setting and also the conflict your character faces. You can hint at some need, desire, or trouble that your character may be facing as the novel progresses. But it is essential to have your hook in the first few lines if possible. You want the reader to pick up your book because they are curious enough to want to read the rest of the story to see what happens.
You don’t have long to do this because most readers probably won’t read past the first couple of paragraphs, or even sentences of your book, so if you can set your story off with a bang all the better. Of course there are many ways to do this depending on the genre.
Let’s look at Gone by Lisa Gardner. This is her first paragraph: “She is dreaming again. She doesn’t want to. She wrestles with the sheets, tosses her head, tries to keep the dream vision of herself from walking up those stairs, from opening that door, from entering the gloom.” Now this is a mystery novel and hooks may be easier to do, but it makes me want to read more. I want to know what is behind the door she doesn’t want to open, don’t you?
Now let’s look at one that starts off with dialogue. I feel that dialogue always gets the story moving in a hurry because you can show fear or other emotions right off the bat. This is the opening from Steven King’s Desperation.
“Oh! Oh, Jesus! Gross!”
“What, Mary, what?”
“Didn’t you see that?”
Doesn’t this make you wonder what Mary saw? Whatever it was, it must be shocking.
Of course another master at thrilling suspense is Jeffery Deaver. This is the first paragraph of Coffin Dancer: “When Edward Carney said good-bye to his wife, Percey, he never thought it would be the last time he’d see her.” Okay, you can see with just that simple sentence that something dramatic and life-changing is about to happen to either Percey or Edward. I wonder what it is.
As I said this is pretty easy to master with mystery, suspense and thrillers. Next time we’ll look at the first paragraphs in some other genres. You can see how it is an absolute necessity to catch the reader’s attention as soon as possible.
Just thinking about all this makes me what to look at the first paragraphs of my novels again. I know I can always do better, but I wonder if all writers feel that way, even the big names.