Books that sell need a bunch of things. Before a reader even looks at your content they are going to look for any reason to say “no.” It’s how our minds work—we are constantly asked to run a gauntlet of commercial interests trying to sell us every product under the sun… including your book. If you have a good cover and back blurb and haven’t priced your book into oblivion, only then will a potential reader look at your actual words on paper.
Following is an article on how to sharpen your first page: the single most critical piece of writing in your actual story. If your book is going to make it, the first chapter—especially your first page, has to be amazing.
There are a few books that I’ve read by authors that have simply blown me away and will always stick with me. Most of them had amazing opening scenes. One that I’ll never forget inspired me to craft unrelenting hooks. I didn’t understand exactly how it was so strong until later, but it’s always stuck with it. I don’t believe it was ever even published, but the opening paragraphs went something like this:
I could see the shadow of her feet shifting beneath the edge of the door. The old woman lived alone, I knew. Certainly she was watching me through the peepsight, trying to ascertain who I was and what I was doing at her door.
After waving briefly to her on the other side of the spy hole, I put the barrel of the forty-five caliber hand-gun into my mouth. Its metal clattered porcelain against my teeth and I pulled the trigger, splattering blood and grey matter across the hallway walls and ceiling. As my body collapsed, I heard her screams as the door flung open. I’d be okay in a few moments, and now the woman was exposed.
The scene was riveting and visceral. We learn right away something that the protagonist wants. We also learn that he is immortal. It sets the tone for the entire book. Everything else about your book prevents resistance to buying it (the cover, blurb, etc.) Now is when you have to prove that you can write, so it better be pretty dang amazing.
I typically spend 60% of my editing efforts on the first chapter, and more than half of that is on the first page or two. Here are some great tips to crafting a strong first page. First the Don’ts and then the Dos.
- Don’t describe the weather. At all. Unless it’s going to kill your main character.
- Don’t get bogged down in excessive description.
- Don’t use any passive verbs. ANY. In fact, try to avoid using the word “was,” as well.
- Don’t info dump/wax into heavy exposition.
- Don’t dwell on the setting/scenery. Sprinkle it in slightly and only as much as is relevant. I know that Tolkien did it. Rules of writing have changed since then, get over it.
- Write punchy, killer sentences that create tension and startle the readers.
- Begin at a logical, but life-changing incident that sets the mood.
- Introduce something ominous right away and end your chapter with a cliffhanger that makes the reader want to continue.
- Use bold, strong words.
- If you can’t make your characters likeable, at least make them relatable.
Remember to make it tight and make it sparkle! A strong first page may make the difference between a sale or not.