Writing a gripping first page in fiction, is arguably the most critical part. This is the first chance to:
- Grab readers
- Introduce the premise
- Set the tone for the rest of the novel.
Without compelling opening pages, many readers may never make it past chapter one. In this article, I am going to give you reasons why fiction writers should pay close attention to crafting their first pages.
Hook The Reader
The most critical mission of the first 1-2 paragraphs is to immediately intrigue, captivate and immerse the reader. These opening lines set the stage for whether a reader will become invested in continuing or put the book down.
Introduce Main Character
Deciding who to introduce in your opening chapter requires thoughtful consideration. While there is no single formula, most stories should establish:
- At least one point of view character – Anchor the reader with a compelling protagonist.
- Another character for interaction – Show your main character relating to someone else.
- Potentially the love interest – In romance, hint at or depict who the protagonist will desire.
- Possibly the antagonist – Though not always a “villain,” foreshadow the core conflict. This could be a flawed character, challenging situation, opposing force or formidable obstacle for your protagonist to eventually reckon with.
You don’t want to start your first chapter, first page or even first paragraph with the main character doing something mundane. Hook readers immediately by starting in the midst of relevant action. Introduce your character in a situation that is NOT boring.
Avoid lifeless openings where the character passively goes through mundane daily activities or has dull conversations. Remember you want your readers to care about your main character. Click to read:Writing Relatable, Sympathetic Characters.
For example, DO NOT:
- Have you character looking at themselves
- Describing their appearance.
- Passively going through life and encountering boring situations.
- Backstory/info dump
Rather than starting with routine waking up or getting ready scenes, plunge into an activity or interaction that directly impacts the protagonist. Skip unnecessary lead-ups and begin at the point where something pivotal is happening that pulls the reader into your character’s circumstances and inner world.
Here is an example opening scene that plunges into a pivotal moment:
Lindsey’s hands trembled as she read the pregnancy test. Two pink lines stared back at her, as stark as a stop sign. She sank onto the closed toilet lid, head spinning.
“I can’t be pregnant,” she whispered. But her churning stomach and week-long food aversions betrayed the impossible truth.
This plunges right into the protagonist’s pivotal discovery that sets up key personal conflicts and questions to come. By skipping mundane lead-up, the story is able to jump straight into an emotionally charged scene that reveals Lindsey’s inner world and pulls the reader into caring about her dilemma.
Here are some more opening scenes, that packs a punch and cracks open the door to your character’s journey. Thrust readers straight into the story by starting where it gets interesting.
- “The crack of gunshots echoed through the forest as she sprinted for her life, dodging the assassin’s bullets.”
- “Hands trembling, Amy gripped the pregnancy test, though she already knew its damning results.”
- “Ian stared at the foreclosure notice clutched in his fist, the paper crinkling as his knuckles turned white.”
- “The crowd’s roar drowned out Nina’s thundering heartbeat as she stepped into the Olympic stadium, lifelong dream so close she could taste it.”
- “Pressing the bloody knife into the sink disposal, Jake desperately tried to erase the crime, but guilt already consumed him.”
- “As the alien warship breached Earth’s atmosphere, Jia knew humanity’s last stand would begin momentarily.”
These openers convey action, emotion and drama through vivid details. They start at a pivotal moment for the character rather than covering mundane waking-up or introspection scenes. The goal is to thrust the reader straight into the story and provide a window into the protagonist’s desires, conflicts and stakes from the very first line.
Click to read: Writing Relatable, Sympathetic Characters. (Otherwise, how to get your readers to care about your main character.)
Write an Engaging Opening Conflict
The opening conflict is the initial problem, obstacle, disagreement or tension introduced in the first chapter that hooks readers into the story. An effective opening conflict should:
Immerse readers quickly – Plunge into the action rather than lengthy introductions. Begin at an exciting or pivotal moment where the conflict is already brewing.
Reveal character – Show who the protagonist is through how they view, approach, or handle the opening conflict.
Set the tone – Match the mood, pace and themes that will permeate the book. A tense thriller should open tensely, a light romance with humor.
Propel the story – Make readers curious to see how the conflict will unfold. Leave them with urgent questions that make them eager to keep reading.
You should also check out: One Shot Openers.
We already covered:
- Reveal the character, which should be done within the first paragraph of the first page.
- Immerse readers quickly, we discussed how to immediately engage your readers by voiding lifeless openings and mundane daily activities.
We are going to discuss:
- Setting The Tone
- Propel The Story
Set The Tone
The opening pages establish the overall tone for the rest of the novel through deliberate choices in style, pacing, imagery, and mood. Consider what feeling you want readers to experience right away, as this will shape the story’s atmosphere.
Thrillers need immediate tension and imminent danger conveyed through terse prose, graphic action, and a foreboding mood. For example: “Agent Ward’s heart pounded as he crept through the ransacked safehouse, his Beretta whipping back and forth in search of the Russian double agent who sold them out.”
Romance novels should start with a spark of attraction, witty banter, amusing mishaps, or warm emotional connections to set a lighter, heartfelt tone. For instance: “The thunderstorm drenched Jane’s best dress and work presentation notes, but she didn’t care with Zach’s charming umbrella rescue and offer to get coffee instead.”
Dystopian stories require bleak scenery, strict authoritarian elements, and despairing characters to quickly establish an oppressive atmosphere. Example: “Walking past the propaganda posters in his gray jumpsuit, Dmitri kept his eyes downcast to avoid the detectors that sensed unauthorized emotion in the City’s sprawling camera surveillance network.”
Literary fiction can showcase introspective narration, rich symbols, and unusual phrasings to set a poignant, thoughtful mood from page one. For example: “I still remember the way the melting snow in spring carried Mother’s cherry blossom perfume long after she was gone.”
Once you commit to a distinct tone aligned with your story’s themes and genres, repeatedly reinforce it through setting descriptions, character perspectives, and striking language choices to fully immerse the reader.
As an author, you must be very deliberate about crafting the opening pages to evoke the appropriate mood through selective use of description, voice, dialogue, pacing, imagery and other style choices. Matching the opening tone with the larger tone of the whole book helps transport the reader fully into its world from page one.
Propelling the Story
Among the most critical skills for fiction writers is the ability to propel the story forward and create that addictive “page-turner” momentum that keeps readers hooked. While compelling characters, immersive settings, and resonant themes are crucial, these elements alone won’t necessarily make readers eager to keep rapidly turning pages.
A captivating plot that continues progressing forward with mounting stakes, unpredictable twists, and a mix of resolutions and new mysteries is what fuels the reader’s addiction to know what happens next. Like an unstoppable freight train, the story events should gain speed and intrigue, hurtling readers ever closer to the final destination. Savvy writers have a toolbox of techniques to propel the narrative forward, carrying readers along breathless and wide-eyed through each chapter.
How To Do this:
Raise compelling story questions: Introduce mysteries, secrets, unknowns and speculation that pique the reader’s curiosity. Leave chapters hanging with unanswered questions about the plot or characters to pull readers along.
- “Little did Hannah know, the old diary hidden in the attic held secrets that would unravel her family’s past.”
- “Who was the mysterious stranger watching them from across the bar, and why did he look so familiar?”
Cliffhangers: End chapters on a suspenseful note at a critical moment, like danger looming, revelation of a secret, confrontation about to happen. This compels readers to keep going to see what happens next.
- “As Nancy opened the closet door, a skeletal hand reached out and grabbed her.”
- “Just as they kissed, Ellen’s eyes widened as she spotted her husband at the restaurant’s entrance.”
Reveals/twists: Surprising reveals, plot twists and unexpected events maintain suspense, curiosity and uncertainty to constantly engage readers.
- “Sam realized the anonymous letters were coming from inside his own home.”
- “The detective had nearly closed the case when new DNA evidence turned everything upside down.”
Escalating stakes: Increase the danger, complications, and significance of the conflict throughout the story. Raise the stakes for the protagonist to build narrative drive.
Obstacles: Setbacks, antagonists, failures by the protagonist, and other hurdles maintain forward progression by forcing the character to adapt, get creative, or learn lessons.
Learning what makes readers insatiably devour a book in a day or stay up all night binging chapters is integral to crafting a true page-turner.
With practiced technique and relentless redrafting, you can perfect the all-important first page to immerse readers quickly and propel them forward on a gripping fictional journey.
When you get the chance, also check out: One Shot Openers and Writing Relatable, Sympathetic Characters.
If you enjoyed this post, you can find us on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Disclaimer: If you click on our links, we may earn commission. Sajah’s Design Studio will only promote products we believe will benefit other WordPress users. Click here to read our disclaimer.