It might seem strange that I am writing about first pages and how to write them when we are nearly halfway through the Chapter Book Challenge, but I think the timing is perfect; we all have 18 days left to try and finish the first drafts of our stories and then we will begin proofreading, editing and revising those stories. One of the most important things to look at in your book will be the first page. First pages are hard to write well. You have to hook the reader in such a short space of time. But despite how difficult it can be, it is possible to get your first pages written the right way.
"First pages are like first dates. No, worse. First pages are more like the ten seconds it takes your blind date to come into sight and walk toward your table. It’s often a make-or-break deal, and in many cases, a delusive representation of what follows in chapters behind." ~Rebecca Lacko on a post on The Written WordYour main character, the protagonist, needs to be introduced in the first page of the story. Have you ever read a book that starts off with a character and you start to connect with the character, thinking that the story will be about them, only to find the story focusing on someone else soon after? It's confusing for the reader. The reader needs to start connecting with the main character right away.
"Beginnings are about RELATIONSHIPS. We, as writers, have a real opportunity to share our characters and the relationships that make them as the first thing our readers see. They are building blocks, and ones we sorely need." ~Cait Peterson on a post on YA MisfitsThe reader needs to have a reason to connect with the main character right away. Your main character needs to already be showing some of his or her personality, enough to help the reader find reasons to start rooting for them. The reader needs to feel something for the character early on in the story. Though there are always exceptions to the rule, in most cases, your main character needs to be likeable.
"Avoid the stereotypical whiny, displaced, unhappy middle-grade voice. More than one middle-grade manuscript began with a character learning that he/she had to move. The result was a whiny narrator who wasn’t necessarily likeable." ~Tara Lazar on a post on Writing For Kids (While Raising Them)Don't be repetitive. Your first page needs to keep the story in motion. Don't go back to the same concept or idea and recycle something you've already covered. The same thing goes for phrases; don't repeat phrases, no matter how beautiful or clever they sound to you. The reader will get bored.
Make sure your story has a distinctive and appealing voice. You don't want your story, or your character, to sound like it was written by some other author or could be written by any author. This story has to have something in the way it is worded that pulls at the reader. Your voice is the way you portray the way you see what is happening in the story. And your story will also have its own voice. Is it humorous? Sarcastic? Horrific? Serious? Deep? Light-hearted? You get the idea.
"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." ~Lynda R. Young in a guest post on The Written WordStart with action. Something needs to be happening on the first page. It is very difficult to hook a reader with narrative, especially when your reader is young. Start with a scene where something is happening. You want your reader to immediately be wondering, What happens next? Put your character in the middle of something interesting. At the same time, beware of including too much action in the first scene. Don't give too much back-story yet. You only need enough to draw your reader in to the story. Save some of the more intense action for later in the story when your main character, and thus your reader, has more at stake.
Don't give away too much information. Don't tell too much in the beginning, but also don't give too little information. While your reader doesn't yet need to know everything about your character, your reader does need to know enough to feel connected to your main character and to understand what is happening in the opening scene. Also, the genre of your book should be clear early in the story.
Skip the day-to-day minutiae that is not important to the scene. Writing about your character brushing her teeth, brushing her hair and walking to her car are all unnecessary bits of description for the scene that won't add to it and will only interrupt the action. You don't want to slow your story from moving forward with unnecessary parts of the scene that will just take away from it.
"You have thirty seconds: You have only a few seconds to convince a tired, jaded agent or editor to read on. They will probably give you more than 30 seconds, but in that half-minute window you will make a first impression." ~Kay Kenyon on a post on Writing the WorldWork hard on your first page and revise it many times in order to get it right. Many writers struggle to get the first page of their story right. You need to write and rewrite and revise and edit and rewrite again several times before you can achieve all the elements needed in that first page. Of course, it helps if you know the elements needed for hooking your reader in that first page, so keep in mind the above pointers when you start revising your first page.