Friday, May 26, 2017

Importance of First Pages

Our group blog has an interesting theme this week, thanks to Skye Taylor. Has so much emphasis been placed by readers and writers groups, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/chapter that the rest of the story gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

Ever since I can remember writers have been told the opening few pages need to grab the reader. But how to grab the readers can be very different. It should be where there is a life changing event for the hero or heroine. This could mean a death, a murder, an arrest, or any other inciting incident. In some cases it can be descriptive; a scene that draws you in with the area, location, and weather, whatever.   

I don’t pay much attention to what publishers, reviewers, etc. have to say but I know I am drawn in by the opening pages. Readers expect this also. I judge a lot of contest and just finish one. If I hadn’t been judging i would have closed the book after three or four pages. It was all descriptive and very boring.  And it continued through the first third of the book.

However, once I’ve grabbed a reader’s interest in the first few pages, I need to continue the story in the same vein so they are not disappointed.

The book I’m now writing, I’ve rewritten the first few pages because I didn’t think the previous ones would grab the reader.

Dark clouds hovered over New Orleans. Thunder rolled through the skies. Rain pelted down on the streets of the French Quarter. The drops bounced off the pavement behind Perrine Dupré. Wind whipped her umbrella inside out. Rain clouded her eyes. She stumbled up the three steps to her front door. Juggling her parcels, umbrella and the key Perrine jabbed it in the direction of the lock. Finally the key found the opening and turned.
      Her daughter was finally coming home for a visit. Excitement bubbled up and a smile sneaked out.

Julie Ann had been building her interior design business in New York for the last couple of years. Perrine was proud of her daughter and understood Julie Ann couldn’t visit, but she’d missed her. She could have gone to New York, but Perrine loved New Orleans and hated to travel. Tomorrow she’d finally be able to hug her daughter again.
      Thunder rumbled across the sky.

Perrine turned the door knob. She paused.

A vision flashed in front of her. Her shoulders sagged. She wasn’t going to see Julie Ann after all. And she'd miss their regular telephone call tonight, too.

A single tear shimmered down her cheek.
    Thunder continued to rumble across the sky.

She had no choice. If she ran away they would follow her and shoot her down in the street. She could put her friends and neighbors in danger. They could get hurt.

Even if she did manage to escape tonight, they would kill her eventually.

 The people involved were too powerful. They didn’t care about collateral damage or anyone else who might get hurt.

The information she’d counted on to protect her and Julie Ann obviously wasn't going to protect her any longer. Had they killed off all the other people involved? Was that way the documentation wasn’t important anymore?

There was so much she should have shared with Julie Ann. At least she would be aware of the threat.
    Perrine pushed the door open. An icy cold shroud of death drop over her.
    Thunder crashed. The skies opened wide and lightning flashed across the sky, turning it an electric white.
     At the same time a light slashed across the room.

I’m interested in what the other writers in the group have to say on first pages.

A.J. Maguire
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne Stenhouse
Helena Fairfax
Marci Baun
Victoria Chatham
Rachael Kosinski
Rhobin Courtright


  1. Description is a difficult area, isn't it. While I agree it slows things down, and personally like to open in dialogue, sometimes it can be written beautifully and is in itself a hook. anne stenhouse

    1. I agree that description can be a hook if well-written. I did mention that it can draw you in with a well-developed scene, area, house, whatever.

  2. The storm certainly reflects Perrine thoughts and engenders a sense of impending doom in your excerpt, also piqued my curiosity over what she knows.
    And I agree, different types of hoods attract different readers.

    1. Thanks, Rhobin and different moods and styles do attract different readers.

  3. I agree with, Anne, description can be tricky. Done right, it moves the story forward. Overdone, it drags the story down. Written beautifully, it draws you in.

    I think each genre has their "hook". The way to know what works for your targeted genre is to read those types of books. :)

    1. Great advice, Marci about reading the type of book for your genre. Even the first few chapters to see how the opening draws you in.

  4. I have a writer friend who does a workshop entitled, "First Drafts are Supposed to Suck" although she cleans up that last word depending on the audience. But the title does get the point across. As Someone else pointed out, from the mouth of Nora Roberts, "you can't edit a blank page." So just write the book, include the description and even the info dump - just get the books written. Then you can go back and start asking yourself, "does this scene move the plot forward? Is this bit of dialog necessary? Is there another way to make this information known without dragging the pace of the story? You'll probably "see" a lot of those places all by yourself, but you can also get a couple beta readers to read the rough draft and tell you what worked and what didn't. What did you skip that they felt they should have known, and what you included that they thought was useless.

  5. Great points, Skye. I've heard many of them over the years. I remember one that said write the whole book, then come back and redo the first few pages or chapter because after the whole book you know your characters better and how the story will unfold.

  6. Beverley, what you wrote before your book extract reminded me of my advice to research students I used to supervise. I told them to write the introduction to the thesis last -- when they knew what to introduce.

    You did get me intrigued about the terrible danger facing your heroine...


    1. Interesting, that many of us learned similar lessons years ago and they're still relevant today.

  7. You start with the action of her jabbing the key in the lock and then the setting. However, I think yours works find and if you like it, leave it.

  8. Thanks, Vicki. It will get another read and rewrite when I finish the book.

  9. Hi Beverley, I write and rewrite my openings, too. I often go back to them after I've finished the whole book. I liked your quote at the beginning - "It was a dark and stormy night." Funnily enough I was going to use that quote, too, in my post! It's an opening line that lots of people know, but it's a great example of hooking people in. I enjoyed your post and the thoughtful comments from other writers.

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