The First Page

The First Page

A Lesson by MachinaWriter
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A lesson on how to fashion the first page of your new novel.

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Since primary school most of us have learned that there are three important parts to a novel. The beginning, the climax, and the resolution. The beginning is perhaps one of the most difficult of the three to write. There's a lot of pressure when fashioning the opening pages of your novel, and why wouldn't there be? This is the part most readers will see first. Within that first page your reader will either decide that this is something they'll like, or they'll toss it to the side as a waste of time. I'm going to help you fashion that first page.

Now, before you write that first page you've probably already got an idea in mind of what you want the story to be. You've got a basic setting, you have a character, and you have at least an inkling of where you want the story to go. Good. But of these three things, the character is the most important for this first page. The main plot isn't usually introduced until a little later, so the reader isn't looking for that right away. And the setting will be revealed through the character's eyes, whether you write third person or first person. So it boils down to the character. Before you set that pen to paper or beginning typing, you need to know this character. 

Later on I'll give a lesson on how to create a dynamic, interesting character. For now, we'll assume that you have already learned everything about this character. You know them better than you know yourself. Good. Because the first few sentences need to ground us immediately in the character's perspective. It has to not only let us know that this is our protagonist, but it needs to give us a glimpse of what kind of person they are. That's what your opening does. That's why it is there. It gives the reader a glimpse of the type of person the hero is. 

Now, this doesn't mean you should drop your courageous hero into a gunfight at the very beginning. Actually, that's not good at all. Major conflict should be avoided for the first few pages. Why? Aren't we supposed to start off with action to hook our reader? Yes, and no. When writing guides say start off with action, they mean start off with something happening. Don't start with narrative, or a long explanation on the history of the world, or just a bunch of literary nonsense. They mean start off with your character doing something. 

If your character starts off in a life threatening situation, its confusing and disorientating for the reader. Why is this fight happening? Who are all these people? But most of all, why should they care? A life threatening situation only captures the readers attention if they care about the outcome. They have to have a reason for not wanting the protagonist to die, so they need to already have made a connection with who they are as a person. 

So, we start off with the character doing something. In the midst of performing some action. What should they be doing if not fighting or in some grand conflict? That's up to you. Whatever it is, it should accomplish these things:

- It should give us a glimpse of the character's personality.

- It should ground us in the setting, as seen through OUR CHARACTER'S EYES.

- It should hint at the internal conflict the character will have to overcome later in the story.

For an example of a book that does all of this very well, I suggest reading Stephen King's "The Shining". The opening line of this book perfectly incorporates all of the things the above mentions. 

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

In this opening sequence we learn the character's name, we learn that there's something else in the scene that he evidently thinks is an officious prick. Over the next few pages we learn that he's at a job interview for the hotel many of us know from the movie. The officious prick is the man he wants to hire him. We get a good glimpse that Jack has a bit of an anger issue, it hints at a violent nature in his past, and sets us up for everything to come. But it doesn't tell us the conflict right away. It hints at it by putting the character in a situation of a smaller nature, that tests all the same internal character traits that will be tested later on. 

That's the goal. Start with a small, minor, unrelated conflict that reveals the strongest part of your character's personality, as well as the internal conflicts that he struggles with later on. Now you can understand why I said you need to know your character before you start this opening page. You are unveiling them to the world. Drawing back the curtains and thrusting them center stage, for the whole world to see. If they haven't been developed or practiced with well enough, the audience will be able to tell. They'll stumble on stage, open mouthed and silent. Then the reader will snap the book shut and move on to the next one. 

Before we end this lesson, I want to clear up one more thing. The meaning of conflict. It doesn't mean that your character has to have a fight or an altercation of a physical nature. Conflict can be internal, as well. It can be something as simple as an argument, or the attempt to stay out of an argument. It can be anything in which the character struggles, emotionally or physically, to overcome something. 

Now, on to the next part. Over the next few lessons I'll highlight ways in which you can develop your character, how to outline your plot without cutting off the story's potential for growth, and how to ground a reader in a setting, as well as many other things. If you have a request for a lesson on how to do something you have trouble with, feel free to send me a message and I'll be happy to oblige. 

Until next time,
MachinaWriter


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Added on September 10, 2012
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MachinaWriter
MachinaWriter

Springfield, IL



About
My original passion has always been in writing stories. Most of them were fantasy stories, because I always wanted to escape. That's what it was. An escape from the troubles of life. Joining this site..