The most important page of any book is the first. Those first few paragraphs and that first sentence can make or break the book. How many times have you picked up a novel, read the first page, and put it back down?
I had the good fortune to take a seminar with best-selling author Jody Lynne Nye at Gen Con Writers Symposium a few years ago on how to get your reader engrossed in your book, which got me thinking about all the elements that can go into your first 100 words:
Something Ordinary About The World
Something ordinary that anyone can relate to helps to connect the reader to the main character.
In my novel, The Third Secret, the main character, Umbo, makes his living as a baker as from afar he watches over his charge, Gilli, making sure she remains safe. What better place to find a baker than among his buns and pies at market.
In The Witch of Cheyne Heath series, the main character, Gosha, works as a photographer. As jobs go, photography isn’t particularly ordinary until you compare it to being a witch. Everyone’s taken a photograph, but how many people have cast a spell?
Something Special About The World
It’s extremely important not to overwhelm the reader with a ton of information about the work, but you do want them to feel excited about the world they’re dipping into. One simple fact can be all you need.
In the Shining Continent, the setting for the Third Secret, not all humans look like you and me. The majority of them have fur. In the world of Cheyne Heath there are ghosts and witches.
Something Ominous About The Story
You don’t want to give the game away in the first five seconds, but a suggestion of what’s to come will help add a little spice.
A Starting Surprise
Not all books need to begin with a surprise, but I’m a fan of action-filled page turners, so something at least a little unusual is a great thing to begin with.
I studied for a Bachelor’s degree in film and television, so I was trained to think visually. I always think of my opening as if it were the first shot in a movie. It’s usually a closeup, the story starting narrowed in on the main character in some way, with each line expanding the situation and adding detail and depth.
The Third Secret & The Witch of Cheyne Heath
Here are the opening lines of the first books of my two series to give you a taste of how these elements can come together.
‘“Strange to find a fine Orsino like yourself in these parts,” said the Anthrian.
‘The smell of cured leather and the sweat of long hours on the road tickled Umboridas’ nostrils, reminding him of the Anthrian plainsmen in Craisus’ company, though the Anthrian’s furless skin was a shade or two lighter than those Umboridas had known in the war. He might even be an islander from the archipelago. You rarely saw Anthrians from that far out in this part of the Midlands. This man was a long way from home.’
‘A ghost was the last thing Małgorzata Mierzejewska Armitage needed to see, but there it was in her camera viewfinder. At the frame’s edge, between the drum risers and the rack of Mick’s keyboards, a bare-footed toddler with grubby cheeks in a tattered pinafore fell forward on her hands and knees and bawled.’