first page of your novel can make the difference between a browser
buying your book—or putting it back on the shelf. Most browsers check
out the first page before deciding to buy. That gives you about twenty
seconds to catch their interest. Would your first page close the sale?
Tips for a compelling first
1. Start with a scene that
immediately pulls the reader into your story world. Focus on brimming
conflict—whether internal or external. Something to make the reader
ask, “What will happen next?” Don’t load up the first page with a bunch
2. Write a smashing first
line—one interesting and unique enough to make the browser want to read
on. It can be in various forms—dialogue, description, action, a
perception or belief of the POV character in the scene, etc. Following
are examples from a few of my novels (entire first scenes can be read
at my website: http://www.brandilyncollins.com/):
“Ever hear the dead knocking?” (Dark Pursuit)
After twenty midnights among the dead, Victor Mendoza didn’t spook
easily. (Dread Champion)
sounds drifted into her consciousness like wraiths in the night. (Brink
Any man going on this mission wasn’t coming back.
In crafting your first line,
ask, “What is the most compelling thought/point of this scene?”
Whatever it is, don’t bury it on page three! Find a way to work it into
your first sentence.
Consider these first paragraphs
of a novelist’s work in progress submitted for this article:
Ferrell waited outside the rundown bar on the edge of town. He tugged
at the end of his bow tie and winced at the pain from the slash across
his knuckles. His hand would kill him tomorrow as he signed court
documents, but that drunken bore deserved it. He stepped over the
immobile man blocking the doorway and walked to the corner of the
His mouth twisted into a sneer at the absurdity of wearing a tuxedo in
such a place, but he craved a dose of sordid reality after tonight’s
gala. “Only the right people at our receptions, dear,” his mother would
say. Her insistence on overseeing the guest list guaranteed a most
proper, and most tedious, event.
And once he announced his candidacy for senate, every socialite wannbe
gathered around his coattails. And that maddening mayor simpered at his
every word like a smitten spinster. By the time he’d orchestrated his
exit, all his usual haunts were closed.
He gave a low throaty chuckle as he thought of the one glint of
excitement. Yes, indeed; that little blonde apparition from his past
brightened up the party considerably. In fact, she should be here any
author has done a lot of things right. This first page introduces us to
a womanizer and rabble-rouser who’s running for the Senate. He’s an
interesting character, even though we may not approve of his behavior.
The most compelling point about Avery is that he’s trying to keep a
foot in two very different worlds—and apparently it’s not destined to
work so well. But arrogant Avery doesn’t see that. That he’s brawling
in a tux symbolizes how those two worlds are already clashing—hence a
great place to start the novel. Why not make this point loud and clear
in the first sentence, then build upon it? That requires adding some
text while deleting extraneous words, and switching some “telling”
sentences into “showing.” How about:
Ferrell tugged his bow tie and winced at the slash on his knuckles. His
hand would kill him tomorrow as he signed court documents, but the
drunken bore at his feet deserved it. Nobody got away with calling
Avery names. He stepped over the unconscious man in the doorway of the
rundown bar and stalked to the corner of the building.
Avery’s mouth twisted. Absurd, wearing a tux to a seedy place like
this. But after tonight’s gala he craved a dose of reality, and his
usual haunts were long closed. “Only the right people at our reception,
dear,” his mother had declared. Her insistence on overseeing the guest
list guaranteed a most proper and tedious event. And after he’d
announced his candidacy for senate, every socialite wannabe hung on his
coattails. Even the mayor simpered like some smitten spinster.
He chuckled low in his throat. Ah, but that little blonde apparition
from his past had certainly brightened up the party. Avery leaned
against the cinderblock building and gazed down the street.
She should be here any minute.
Picture that browser in the
store as you craft your first page—and write to close the sale.