Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More on First Pages

My last post was about the importance of the first page of your novel and how it is essential that something captivating happens in the first couple of paragraphs. We all want readers to keep reading. Every writer seems to have their own voice and their own method of drawing the reader into their story. This is easier to do with practice and lots of reading and writing. All of us can look back on previous work and find several places to make it better. One of my favorite sayings is to “never ever give up. Anything worth doing takes a lot of time and effort and things never happen overnight.” The important thing is to keep moving in the right direction. It also helps to know that not every reader will like your book.

I wanted to post some first paragraphs from another genre. There is so much variety out there that all of us can find our perfect genre to write in and who says you have to stay with just one? I bet I have half a dozen stories that I’m working on at any given time and they range all over the place. Fantasy is my favorite, but I don’t stop there. I have some pretty wild dreams and I usually find parts of those working their way into my stories. I really think if you can dream it up, you can write about it and let it be the basis for a good tale, no matter what genre you choose to write in.

So let’s look at some fantasy tales. I love anything that revolves around King Arthur. What a man he was! We would be very lucky to have people of such character in our governments today. I collect King Arthur tales, among other things, and have quite an extensive library of these books. Reading these stories can really inspire me. In my opinion, one of the best series is by Marion Zimmer Bradley “The Mists of Avalon.” I have all of the books in this series and have read them several times. I also watched the movie four times, but as we all know the movies aren’t anything like the original books, although the movie was very good.

Here is the first paragraph for that book:

Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland. As she stared out into the fog and mists, she wondered how she would ever know when the night and day were of equal length, so that she could keep the Feast of the New Year. This year the spring storms had been unusually violent; night and day the crash of the sea had resounded over the castle until no man or woman within could sleep and even the hounds whimpered mournfully.

Strangely, there is no dialogue until the end of the second page in this novel, but it seems to work for this story. The reader gets a sense that Igraine has a lot on her mind and that she is alone much of the time in that old castle. I think the story starts out with a bit of mysteriousness and not at all with a bang like in our mystery and thriller examples, yet there is something very chilling about looking out into fog and mists.

Let’s look at another one. This is from the “Queen of Camelot” by Nancy McKenzie.

The night of my birth the famed witch Giselda, the ugliest woman in all Britain, came to see my father, the King of Northgallis. It was the last night in April, cold and blowing a fine, icy rain. My father and his drinking companions, such nobles and petty lords as could leave their lands in the hands of others, sat in the hall before a great log fire while the women attended my mother and brought him tidings as the night wore on.

You can see this one also has a very mellow start, but we do know this baby is born into royalty and somewhere that witch will enter the story and maybe we’ll find out why she went to see the King of Northgallis on that stormy April night. Since this is a fantasy story, there are several ways that could go.

This next example is the same way. This is from Mary Stewart’s “Merlin Trilogy.” This first paragraph is simply one line: The day my uncle Camlach came home, I was just six years old.

Obviously, we would have to read more of this to get into the story, but this one line does make you wonder where was uncle Camlach all this time and why did he go away to start with and for so long? Many things spring to mind here. He could have been working to pay off a debt, or perhaps he was imprisoned for some evil deed. A lot of imprisonment went on in medieval times and sometimes with no reason at all. Has the child always lived with uncle Camlach, or is there more to the story than that? Where are the child’s parents or perhaps he/she is orphaned.

Now let’s look at one that starts with dialogue. This is from “The Excalibur Murders” by JMC Blair:

“Good heavens look at them, Colin. They actually enjoy hitting each other. And hurting each other. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.” Merlin stood at the window at the top of his tower in Camelot. A large raven sat perched on his shoulder, and another one sat on the windowsill beside him; he fed them from a pocketful of bread crumbs. Below in the courtyard knights were exercising, which meant drilling with sword and shield. The clang of metal on metal rang clearly, as did their cries and grunts.

I’m sure Merlin thinks he’ll be expected to heal all the injuries later, being a wizard and all. At least this tale starts out with more action and promises adventures along the way.

Here is the first paragraph from “The WYRD Sisters” by Terry Pratchett:

The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.

There is no dialogue here, but this looks to be a bit more promising as far as excitement that may be coming. We get the picture of a dark and stormy night. Perhaps something lurks in the shadows.

As I began reading the openings of some of these novels it made me wonder why I like them so much. The stories certainly don’t get started right away, but maybe this is more typical of the fantasy genre. I’d like to hear your thoughts if you’d care to share.

Next time we’ll look at historical fantasy and romance.

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