Writing Tip Wednesday: The First Sentence/Page/Chapter.

I have been thinking a lot about first sentences/pages/chapters lately. I think the closer you get to being ready to submit your manuscript, the more you start to think about this in particular. You realise just how much weight that first page/s carry.

You need to be able to hook readers in straight away. Some people will read your first page when determining whether or not to buy your book, so it needs to be good.

But before the reader picks up your book, you need to hook the agent and your publisher with the first page.

If you are entering something like Miss Snark’s First Victim secret agent contest, you only have 250 words to impress an agent, so it has to be good.

You DON’T have to worry about those firsts at first. When you are writing your first draft, don’t worry about writing an amazing first page. Just write whatever comes to you and then worry about making it amazing after. Your first sentence/page/chapter will probably change a lot when you edit. Not one of my manuscripts has ended up with the first page/chapter that I originally came up with.

The ever lovely Maggie Stiefvater has some good tips on analyzing other people’s first page to improve your own over at her blogspot

She suggests that you grab a book, open to the first page and ask yourself these questions:

What do these first pages have in common?
What is hooking me into the story?
Who is introduced? The main character? a side character? setting?
Is there dialogue?
Is there action?
How does it look on the page? Long paragraphs? Short sentences?
Again: how do these work together to hook me?

And this is what she has to say about first sentences:
‘A great first line can hook a reader, set mood, introduce character, and start the conflict rolling all in one. Not all first lines do this. And they don’t have to. But they should set the tone. So, final question for the first page:
How does the first line relate to the rest of the book?’

Author Beth Revis also has a great post here on hooking readers with your first chapter.

Beth says, ‘you don’t need to open with dialog (or with a question) to make your reader question what’s going on. A key description, or an interesting emotion, or an unusual action is enough to make a reader question what’s going on.’

And she also says, ‘We all have feelings. In the first chapter, you’re trying to make us care about your characters–do that by making us feel. I made my characters feel pain–who hasn’t felt pain? But you can have them feel anything–really dig into the emotion, and you’ll keep your readers hanging on.’

Here are some first lines from some of my favourite books:

My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. (Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta.)

A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamt he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. (Finnikin of the Rock, Melina Marchetta.)

After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point. (Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas.)

I am a liar. (Between the Lives, Jessica Shirvington.)

Eleven years ago, on my sixth birthday, my father disappeared.(The Iron Queen, Julie Kagawa.)

In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.(Graceling, Kristin Cashore.)

It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die. (The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater.)

Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.” (Across the Universe, Beth revis.)

I have been locked up for 264 days. (Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi.)

And one of my absolute favourites:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well. (Daughter of smoke and bone, Laini Taylor.)

Ok, the last one was technically two sentences but that is like the whole first page so I figured I’d include both.

Remember, these firsts are important so work hard on them. Edit, edit and edit, and then edit again. Get advice and feedback from beta readers, writer friends, workshops etc. Your novel will be better for it.
I wish you luck with your first line/pages/chapters.

Anyone game enough to share their’s?

Here’s (the new) first line from my YA epic fantasy, loved to hear your thoughts on it:

Odelia dreamt a river of blood.

Happy writing 🙂


6 thoughts on “Writing Tip Wednesday: The First Sentence/Page/Chapter.

  1. At the moment there’s more focus on “the end” for me. And word count too – I’m now at 55,000 words but I’m afraid that I may end up having to write more so I meet the usual conventions for literary fiction. Anyway, here’s my first line: “A thick shower of silver liquid drenched her, flowing from a delicate rouge-tinted bottle onto pale taut skin – neck, collarbone, shoulders, wrists. The stench of strong perfume clogged the air as she felt the cocaine taking effect.”

  2. I have given my beginning a lot of thought. I even took a Margie Lawson course to make my openings “pop.” There is a point though, where you have to step back, because the tweaking and the fussing can be, quite literally, endless.
    Thanks for this excellent post Rochelle. I follow Magie Stiefvater too 🙂

  3. Good post and thanks for sharing your favourite lines – that are all great!!!

    I definitely agree the first page is really important especially when you are subbing via the slush pile. You need to grab the publishers/agents attention and hold for as long as you can!

    Happy writing 🙂

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