The Spell of the First Page

Before we start this week’s Writing Wednesday post,     I would like to introduce J.E. Feldman as the first external contributor for our blog. J.E. Feldman is the author of the Arbedenion Trilogy, the chief behind Curse of the Heroines:  A Fantasy Writers Group Anthology, and the creator of the Facebook social group Fantasy Writers. J.E. Feldman has grown Fantasy Writers from an audience of a few friends into the largest Facebook group solely dedicated to Fantasy Writers. It currently boasts 4685 members.

J.E. Feldman is doing me a giant favor by agreeing to write a guest post titled, How to Create and Maintain an Online Writing Community.  Stop in this Friday to check it out. In the meantime, you can go to her Amazon Author Page to support her work. Finally, don’t hesitate to go to Facebook and join Fantasy Writers. J.E. Feldman is currently accepting submissions for next year’s Writing Anthology, but you have to be a member in order to submit.

The Spell of the First Page

I’m a needy reader. I’m impatient, easily distracted, and super critical. Because of these reasons, the first page can cast a powerful spell that causes me to close the cover and never pick up the book again. If you look at an entire novel as a football team, then the Intro is the Quarterback. The Quarterback decides what direction the rest of the play will take. If the Quarterback sits with the ball for too long then they are going to get sacked.

When you begin your story, it might help to realize that the reader might not actually want to read it. When I first open up a book, even one from an author I like, it takes me a few minutes to begin to visualize what I am reading. During those first few minutes, I am painfully aware that I am staring at tiny black marks on paper.

It is the author’s job to grab my attention. One way an author can do this is to create an interesting visual element from the get-go. You don’t need to describe an entire scene, just one captivating element so I can get the ball rolling. This allows me to replace those tiny black marks with my imagination.

In tandem with creating a visual element, there needs to be some sort of conflict present. The primary conflict of the novel is likely too complicated for the first page, so use something smaller. Make your POV character thirsty and the conflict is about getting a glass of water. You want to create tension that can pull your reader into the next page. Below is an example of a visual element tied with a conflict.

A glistening bead splashed from a rusted pipe onto his outstretched tongue. Pain lanced through his gut while his stomach cramped for the hundredth time. Straining against the chains that bound his arms, he re-extended his tongue when the pipe leaked another precious drop.

The Reader can identify with thirst so it creates a problem that they can understand without having too much background information. If you tried to make the opening conflict about political dissent in a fictional nation, then the reader might not understand or be able to relate to it as quickly.

This last thing that should be present on your first page is a concrete sense for a character. This is so the readers can put themselves into that person Point-of-View and participate in the events, rather watching from the sidelines. Visual details are often the first tool a writer pulls out, but I would suggest only using one or two physical descriptions that are prominent enough to easily imagine. You can subtlety weave other information about the character using either the scenery or conflict. For the passage above, the chains are a hint that the POV character is a prisoner.

First pages are incredibly important to me. If you want to catch my attention you need to transport me into your story, keep me engaged with something interesting, and give me a lens to experience it through. Thanks for reading my bumbling attempt to talk about first pages. I hope you come back on Friday to read J.E. Feldman’s How to Create and Maintain an Online Writing Community.

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