By Audrey Quinn
A good first impression is everything, and that goes for writing, too!
People make up their minds about whether to continue reading your writing after just a few sentences, so it’s vital to make the most out of that first sprinkle of words. This is true for both fiction and non-fiction, and the advice for writing a good first page is similar in many aspects for both genres.
Get to the point
The key to writing a first page that draws readers in and keeps them reading is to get straight to the point. If your story focuses on one particular person or character, introduce them right away.
It should also be clear what your story is going to be about from the first few pages, so this is the time to lay the foundation for what’s going on in your story, where the story takes place, and when the story is set.
If you are writing non-fiction, your goal is still to make it clear what you are going to be writing about from the first few pages. Introduce the concept and key people, places, and themes of your work as soon as possible.
Know your lane
Another important aspect of writing effective first pages is familiarizing yourself with the genre your work takes place in, and adhering to (or nodding to, and then breaking) the expectations genre readers will hold when they pick up your work for the first time.
If you’re writing a sci fi short story, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to people looking specifically for something in the sci fi genre if you opened your story with an epic battle between a flock of rainbow-scaled dragons and the villagers who want to build a factory in the middle of the dragons’ historical nesting site…because that better fits into the fantasy genre box. Unless that’s the point of your story, in which case, you should give a clue that the robots are coming!
This doesn’t mean you can’t blend genres, or really do whatever you want with your story. You just need to set readers expectations for the world they are entering on that first page.
Be original–or at least not trite
While its true that everything has been done before, avoid opening your story with a cliche.
Cliches are overused ideas or tropes that turn off many readers, primarily because they are boring and unoriginal. The article “Five Cliched Chapter Openings” gives several examples of cliche chapter openings, such as starting with the weather (“It was a dark and stormy night…”), starting in the middle of a dream sequence, or starting with rhetorical questions or personal philosophical statements (“Life, as they say, will go on…”).
Stay on topic
Another thing to avoid is starting off with something that isn’t relevant to your story. If your book is about the history of the development of the vaccine for smallpox, then you probably shouldn’t open with a paragraph-long description of tropical birds in the Amazon rainforest (unless they were the ones that created the vaccine!). Although, I would personally read a research paper about either of those things.
There’ll be a quiz later
Want to make your reader’s eyes glaze over? Introduce too many character names at once.
Readers don’t want to draw an entire family tree of characters to understand what’s happening in your story within the first five pages (unless you are George R.R. Martin but, if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t.) Start by introducing the main character or characters if this is a fiction story, and by introducing the main historical figure or figures if this is a non-fiction piece such as a biography.
Now get out there and write the best opening first pages this world has ever experienced!
Thurs March 28 | Learn to pen captivating songs in our March Write Club for Grown Ups with m5Vibe
Feb 15 & 22 | Clarify the why behind your work, and cast it in its strongest, most evocative light in this 6-hour bootcamp with Lyzette Wanzer.
Mondays Jan 22-Feb 26 | Develop confidence and authenticity reading your work aloud in this 6-week workshop with Jorah LaFleur
Oct 27-29 | Haunt the Oregon Coast for a weekend of spooky short story writing.