Do you want to write an epic first page for your story? In this post, we tell you how to do it – with examples.
First impressions are everything when it comes to a book. What was it that first grabbed your attention? The first line, the first scene, or the first time they described the character? We will be looking at all the firsts involved in a book and how a writer can use them to their advantage.
Read all the posts in this series here:
- How To Write An Epic First Page
- How To Write An Epic First Line
- How To Write An Epic First Scene
- How To Make The First Time We Meet A Character Epic
I’m going to start with the first line and the first page.
The First Line, The First Page
Readers today have little time or patience. We’ve all heard about agents and editors who don’t read past the first paragraph if they aren’t immediately engaged, but that applies to anyone who picks up the book. Kids are merciless, adults might indulge a famous author, but as a beginner you have your work cut out for you.
Mickey Spillane says, ‘The first page sells the book, the last page sells the next book.’
- Your first page sets the tone for the whole book.
- If your first page is ambiguous, slow, or confusing, readers will assume the whole book is like that.
- Your first page creates expectation and excitement.
Your first page should create a bit of mystery, a reason for us to keep reading. Think of it as a foreshadowing tool. You introduce elements, but we’ll only understand the significance of those elements later. It must not be confusing, but it should be enticing and mysterious. Hey, I never said this was going to be easy.
What Makes An Epic First Page?
We learn by reading. The internet is an amazing tool. On Amazon we can look at all the first pages we need to.
[Go to Amazon and search for the book you would like to study. Select the format. The ‘Look Inside Icon’ will appear above the cover image. Click it and read the first page.]
I found the first pages of some popular books that I have read lately. It’s important to look at recent novels. You are writing for the current market and your favourite first page might be from a book that was published years ago. Every market has its trends and publishing is no different.
After I read the first page of the book I try to answer the following questions:
- Who is speaking? Try to identify the speaker. The speakers identity may be part of the mystery, but remember the narrator also acts as a filter and influences our perception of the events.
- What is happening? Again, mystery is good, but confusion is bad. I don’t need a lot of details, but I need something to ground me.
- Where is it happening? Do not start with lines and lines of setting. Only give your reader the information they need for the immediate scene.
- When is it happening? This is very important for any story not set in the present.
- Why is this significant/all happening? Most often this is what we will uncover as we read. Only give the reader enough information for the scene. You are laying the groundwork.
You will not be able to answer many, or some, of these and that may become the goal of the story.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
Let’s look at some examples:
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
The book starts with advertisements telling us how wonderful the suburb of Shaker Heights is.
Opening line: ‘Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.’
- Who is speaking? We do not know who the narrator is, however the words like ‘everyone’ and ‘gossip’, and ‘sensational’ are clues.
- What is happening? A young girl has set her house on fire.
- Where is it happening? The perfect utopia of Parkland Drive in Shaker Heights.
- When is it happening? A specific time is not given, but grocery carts and fire engines are mentioned. We assume it is present day, until told otherwise.
- Why is this significant/all happening? We learn that the daughter is considered ‘a little lunatic’ and that there was ‘something off’ about the Richardson family.
We don’t know any more about the situation, but we want to know more. We may not know the characters that have been mentioned but we know just enough to be intrigued.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Prologue: The body of Chase Andrews has been found.
Opening line: ‘The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.’
- Who is speaking? This is written in third person attached. This is Kya’s story. She is six.
- What is happening? While Kya washes dishes her mother leaves the house.
- Where is it happening? In the marsh, in a ‘rough-cut shack’
- When is it happening? The prologue takes place in 1969 and the opening scene in 1952. The dates are added at the top.
- Why is this significant/all happening? Kya suspects that her mother has left and is not coming back because she was wearing her ‘her gator shoes’.
I’m limiting my comments to the first page only. I’m trying not to discuss the first scene. We will do that in a later post.
Children Of Blood And Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Prologue: It is a list of Maji clans and a memory of her mother and how she died and who was responsible.
Opening line: ‘Pick me.’
- Who is speaking? It’s written in first person. A young girl, named Zélie.
- What is happening? She wants to be picked to fight.
- Where is it happening? The village is our most concrete reference but we don’t know more. The names of the characters, Mama Agba, Yemi, Zélie are further clues that we find ourselves in Africa.
- When is it happening? She says ‘moon after moon’, this tells us they have a different measurement for time. We know this is not the first time that she has wanted to fight.
- Why is this significant/all happening? It is her graduation match. She wants to fight. This is not what we have come to expect of girls.
This is high fantasy. As you read the setting becomes very important, but again, I am limiting my comments to the first page.
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
Prologue: It is a map and two quotes.
Chapter 1 – It feels like they disguised the prologue as the first chapter.
Opening line: ‘When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle.’
- Who is speaking? Third person attached. We meet Margery. She is ten.
- What is happening? She is playing when her father asks her to come and look at a beetle.
- Where is it happening? The rectory.
- When is it happening? The chapter starts with a date: 1914.
- Why is this significant/all happening? The moment she falls in love with a beetle she loses her beloved father.
If you were wondering why I said they disguised the prologue as the first chapter, is because one characteristic of the prologue is the it usually occurs long before the main story. Chapter 2 jumps to her as an adult and the story starts when she places an ad for an assistant to go on an expedition. But, I am still trying to stick to the first page. Emphasis on trying.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Prologue: Alicia Berenson’s diary and a Freud quote
Opening line: ‘Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband.’
- Who is speaking? First person, but unnamed. An almost clinical summary of events.
- What is happening? The speaker is giving us the facts of the murder, but it’s clouded by his opinions.
- Where is it happening? The events discussed took place in north-west London, but no clear indication of where the speaker is.
- When is it happening? No date specified, but present day. The murder took place six years before – on the hottest day of the year.
- Why is this significant/all happening? The murder is contradictory to what she wrote in her diary. Freudian quotes and references to ‘crazy thoughts’ set this up as a psychological thriller.
I included this book, because like Miss Benson, it felt like the elements had been used differently. There is a lot that happens in this book before you get to the first page. I think it steals a bit of the first page’s thunder.
Those are five questions I try to answer immediately, but besides that did you notice how hard the first lines worked to set them up?
The following points are tools you can use to enable you as the writer to strengthen your first page. If you work through these points your reader will be able to answer those five questions.
How To Write An Epic First Page
Tips For Writers:
What should a writer include on the first page?
- Enticing first line: Make it awesome. More about this in next week’s post.
- Brief introduction of character: We need to know who we are rooting for.
- Brief introduction of setting: Where does it all take place?
- In medias res: Start in the moment of action. Do not explain. Drop your reader in the action.
- Outer conflict: What is the threat or opportunity that must be dealt with.
- Internal conflict: What does your character fear, want or need?
- Voice of writer: Does it sound like you? Is it unique is and sustainable?
- Tone of scene: Does it suit your story?
- Brief introduction of backstory: Why is this significant?
- Resulting goal: What is your character going to do as a result of this scene?
- Pace: Some books are fast and some are slower make sure it suits your story.
The Last Word
by Mia Botha
Want to put all of this into action?
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