First Lines, First Pages, and First Dates #IWSG

Spring is a season of beginnings and, for my writing, the season of enduring. I want to be outside enjoying the sun, regardless of what my allergies may say. Although I use my community to help stay motivated, most days it is a struggle to sit down and write.

This year the first day it felt like spring, I conquered my outdoor fever by attending my first writing workshop. The New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators held a First Pages Boot Camp. Aubrey Poole and Jim McCarthy were both incredible speakers, and I wanted to share some of their advice and insight.

First Date

Toller dog laying next to sign that says Will you be my datePicking a book is a lot like online dating. We start by peruse covers to get a feel for a book’s vibe. Much like a profile picture, a cover is our first impression and gives us a little insight into the book’s personality. If we like what we see, we check out the book’s “profile” to learn a little more about it. We read the jacket copy and discover more about the book’s personality. Then we decide we are ready to take a chance and go on the first date because make no mistake, that is what first pages are.

Toller

Will you be my date

First Pages

Bottles of colored liquids in front of chemical formula for organic compoundFirst pages are all about chemistry. You need to entice your reader, peek their curiosity and interest so they want to know more. The longer your reader reads, the more they will continue to read. Once significant time is invested, they are less likely to set down the book (unless they are a promiscuous reader).

To create chemistry, you need to engage a reader’s emotions or curiosity. You must overcome their fear that they could be missing out on something better while they spend time with your book. And most importantly you need to not be boring. If your first pages are dynamic and engaging, your reader will stick with you and build a relationship with your book.

Dating Do’s

Woman standing in front of sign that says You are Beautiful

  • Be Memorable: You want to be memorable and a dynamic and strong voice can capture an audience. The language you use to engage the reader can be just as important as the meaning behind them.
    • Tip: Humor can be a compelling way to hook your reader and can create a strong voice from the start.
  • Be Beautiful: Make sure your prose is as polished as it can be. If you can craft exquisite prose, it may overshadow other weaknesses. However, remember it is the substance behind the beauty that will keep people reading.
  • Be Lively or Endearing: Your main character should be someone the reader cares about. That caring doesn’t have to be affection. They don’t even need to want good things to happen to your character, but they need to invest in the character and want something to happen to him, good or bad. Make sure your character leaves a  lasting impression.
  • Be Honest: The stakes or conflict of your book should be shown in your first pages. The reader should have an idea of what kind of book they are embarking on. There is no point in continuing to date if your book and your reader are incompatible.
    • Tip: Try to make your first chapter a short story with its own arc that is a reflection of the whole story.
  • Tease: Keep your reader wanting more. Tease them with mystery and questions. Leave them wanting with a cliffhanger. Make them restless to see what will happen next.
  • Be Engaging: Make sure there is tension in your story. Something happening, especially conflict, can create a sense of interest and suspense.
Dating Don’ts
  • Couple arguing in parkTalk about the Past: Don’t dump your book’s backstory on your first date. You want to flirt, hinting at your book’s depth and providing context. You don’t want to drive your reader away by unloading too much information.
    • Tip: If your story feels more like summary or backstory, you are likely beginning in the wrong place. Make sure you are starting with the narrative arc not the first important incident chronologically.
  • Be Mediocre: You want to show how your book is unique, and why it is better than anything else out there. Use this opportunity to highlight your book’s strengths. Don’t waste it with one cliché after another.
  • Not Know Yourself: Your first pages should reflect the whole book. You need to understand your story to create this. As your story changes throughout editing, your first pages will need to change as well.
  • Have Poor Hygiene: Grammar is prose’s hygiene. A hair out of place is one thing, but if it goes beyond being a little disheveled, your reader isn’t going to bother finding out how interesting your story is.

First Lines

Two girls lying on an old truckFirst lines are your first conversation on the date. You want to generate honest interest, reveal something about your story, and highlight its uniqueness. Make sure you create a question with your first line, something unique to your story. It is an opportunity to show your angle and how the story will be told. However, be sure your opening line bears fruit in a small way in the first chapter and in a big way by the end of the book or your relationship with your reader will fall apart.

The best way to find perfection is to experiment with different ways to begin. Here are eight distinct types of first lines. Try rewriting your beginning with each of these methods and see if it sparks a new way to begin your book.

1. Middle moment: Start in the middle of the action to hook your reader.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” — The Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982)

Man squatting in hoodie2. Simple truth: Keep it short, simple, and raise a question.

“I am an invisible man.” — Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison(1952)

3. Give away the plot: If your story is about the journey and not the destination, reveal it.

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” — A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)

4. Statement of principles or values: Give an opinion that sets the tone of the book

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” —Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

Rain splashing on concrete5. Paint a richly detailed picture: Envelop your reader so completely in the world they never want to leave.

“The rain poured down on London so hard that it seemed that it was dancing spray, every raindrop contending with its fellows for supremacy in the air and waiting to splash down.” — Dodger by Terry Pratchett (2012)

6. Introduce voice: If the voice of your piece is exceptionally strong or unique, you may need to give the reader time to adjust. This means your first chapter may be light on characterization or plot to allow the reader to adapt to the voice.

“Check this out. This dude named Andrew Dahl holds the world record for blowing up the most balloons . . . with his nose. Yeah. That’s true.” — Ghost by Jason Reynolds (2016)

7. Statement of paired facts: Combine two ordinary things to make them extraordinary.

“In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.” —  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (1940)

8. Statement that serves as a frame of reference: Talk directly to the reader. This type of beginning is self-aware and meta. It is one of the few instances where you tell instead of show.

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” — A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (1999)

Unlike dating, with writing, you get the opportunity to revise and make the perfect first impression. Keep revising until your story is irresistible.

man holding bouquet of flowers behind his back

I am really excited to be co-hosting this month’s IWSG Hop. Created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the IWSG’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

To join, simply sign up by clicking on the button below and adding your name to the linky list. Then post the first Wednesday of each month and visit your fellow bloggers to lend your support.

This month’s other co-hosts are J. Q. RoseC.Lee McKenzie, and Raimey Gallant!

This month’s optional question: “It’s spring! Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?”

Join IWSG Blog Hop
By | 2018-05-02T21:47:37+00:00 May 2nd, 2018|Craft, Writing|40 Comments

About the Author:

Writer, Software Engineer, modern-day Renaissance woman and eternal student

40 Comments

  1. Christine Rains May 2, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

    That’s excellent advice. I always do my best to have a hook that not only packs emotion but story too. Thanks for co-hosting today!

  2. Nancy Gideon May 2, 2018 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Great post, Erika! Tons of info, fun and visually entertaining, too. If a book, I’d keep reading. Thanks for co-hosting this month. It was wonderful to meet you.

  3. Ellen Jacobson May 2, 2018 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Love the dating analogy 🙂 Great tips on making your first impression a memorable one. Thanks for co-hosting IWSG this month.

  4. C. Lee McKenzie May 2, 2018 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Those first lines are indeed crucial. Without a great hook, readers often close the book and move on down the line. Thanks for co-hosting today! Great to meet you.

  5. D.R. Shoultz May 2, 2018 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Good advice on openings and first lines! I usually rewrite mine many times. Thanks for hosting IWSG this month.

  6. Lee Lowery May 2, 2018 at 10:01 am - Reply

    What an interesting concept! I dare say, some people put more thought into deciding whether a book is a good fit than a potential date-mate. 🙂 Spot on about first pages. I love the “look inside” feature. If I’m not hooked by the end of the preview, I usually move on. But when I am intrigued to know ‘what happens next’ that author just made a sale. Thanks for co-hosting today.

  7. Tyrean A Martinson May 2, 2018 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Loved these tips on opening and how you compared them to the first date. I had a good snicker over some of the don’ts – especially not talking about the past. The examples, though, they were the best part and I loved the ones you chose. I’ll be pinterest-saving this post for later reminders.

  8. Se White May 2, 2018 at 11:43 am - Reply

    I love the explanation about making the characters memorable, even the baddies. I have definitely gobbled up series with a good villain because I want to see them brought to justice! Great example.

  9. Diane Burton May 2, 2018 at 11:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for co-hosting this month. Loved your comparison of the opening of a book to a first date. Excellent.

  10. Liesbet May 2, 2018 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Helpful tips! And, a perfect way of approaching this topic.

    Like you, I have a hard time sitting behind the computer and write, when it is warm and sunny out. I’ll have to “rush” my projects, before summer arrives. 🙂

    I’m impressed that you are a writer and a software engineer; an unlikely combination. My husband is a software engineer as well, but writing is definitely not his strong point. 🙂 Luckily, his first language is English (mine is not) and he is happy to help me with my manuscript. Thanks for co-hosting, Erika!

  11. Megan Morgan May 2, 2018 at 11:58 am - Reply

    What a great way to describe a book! Very unique and clever. I love some of these first lines, too!

  12. Mina B. May 2, 2018 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Cute post! Loved the comparison! 🙂 Thanks for co-hosting IWSG!

  13. Madeline Mora-Summonte May 2, 2018 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    A fun and informative post! The parts about “promiscuous reader’ and “grammar is prose’s hygiene” totally cracked me up. 🙂

  14. Louise (Fundy Blue) May 2, 2018 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks for co-hosting the IWSG today, Erika! I loved this “dating advice” post. I’m bookmarking it under my writing inspiration bookmark. Have a great day!

  15. Ronel Janse van Vuuren May 2, 2018 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Love the analogy! Great advice, as always 🙂

    Ronel visiting on Insecure Writer’s Support Group day: Autumn Decisions

  16. Anna May 2, 2018 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    I do an internet search when trying to write my first line–so helpful. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  17. Elsie May 2, 2018 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this. Especially the way you described it as a first date. So true! Spot on about catching the reader’s attention, I mean heck, I recognized King’s line immediately. Of course, that may be because I’m a tad obsessed with that series. 😉 Thank you for co-hosting!

    Elsie

  18. Victoria Marie Lees May 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Excellent post as usual, Erika. Thank you so much for these tips. I’ve shared the post online. And as always, I love the images you share. They so perfectly fit with the text. Thanks for co-hosting this month. All best to you!

  19. Olga Godim May 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Great post. Love the dating comparison – very fitting. I need to work on my first lines.

  20. Rebecca Douglass May 2, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Good tips, and a nice metaphor for the process of opening a book. I love the examples, too. It’s all food for thought, and I’m extrapolating to short stories… those must be more like speed dating, making the opening even more important!

    –Rebecca My IWSG Post

  21. Raimey Gallant May 2, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Oh my god, Erika. My blog hop is so jealous of IWSG right now, because this post is so good!

  22. Lidy May 2, 2018 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    Thanks for co-hosting today! Love the dating analogy. And loving this post.

  23. Juneta May 2, 2018 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    What a great way to present that information. Great tips, thanks. Thank you for hositing.

  24. Kalpana May 3, 2018 at 3:28 am - Reply

    Not only was your post full of good advice it was hugely entertaining too. Happy IWSG Day

  25. Pat Garcia May 3, 2018 at 5:55 am - Reply

    I’ve heard so much about the workshops given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m sure that you had an inspiring time.
    All the best and thanks for co-hosting.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  26. Erika Beebe May 3, 2018 at 6:32 am - Reply

    It sounds like a really fantastic workshop, Erika. I like the dating don’ts. 🙂 Have a great rest of your week 🙂

  27. Mary Aalgaard May 3, 2018 at 8:00 am - Reply

    Great. tips! I was taking note of all the examples. Now, my TBR pile is much larger.
    Thanks for co-hosting this month!

  28. Lynn La Vita May 3, 2018 at 8:30 am - Reply

    I loved this post with the dating comparison and filled with examples. I’ve book marked this page and intend to come back and read it again. Thank you for co-hosting this month’s IWSG. Nice to meet you.

  29. ChemistKen May 3, 2018 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I’m still working on my first story, so I’m still working on finding the best opening lines. But I’ll get there one day. Thanks for co-hosting IWSG this month!

  30. Alex J. Cavanaugh May 3, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Just like dating all right! Great list.
    Thanks for co-hosting.

  31. dolorah at Book Lover May 3, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Fabulous! I never thought of book reading/writing as a first date. Love the analogy. I’ll favorite this to refer back to when I need a little inspiration, or just get stuck.

    Good to meet you Erika 🙂

  32. J.Q. Rose May 3, 2018 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    What a great mini-writing lesson all on your page! Thanks so much for the info and the samples to accompany the topics! Thanks for sharing co-host duty with me!
    JQ Rose

  33. Michelle Wallace May 3, 2018 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    Thank you for co-hosting the IWSG this month, Erika!
    Some great opening lines. I’m really interested in trying out no#7 in one of my stories…combining two ordinary things to make them extraordinary!
    The Lemony Snickets series is fabulous…
    Thank you for the entertaining post! 🙂

  34. Dawn Byrne May 3, 2018 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Nice post. Love the pictures. Never equated writing with dating. Fun.

  35. Toi Thomas May 5, 2018 at 7:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for co-hosting this month and thanks for stopping by my blog.
    I like the comparison of writing to dating. I fear I may be a promiscuous reader, at least a fear-of-commitment reader.
    I enjoy and appreciate your 1st line examples.

  36. Adrienne Reiter May 6, 2018 at 1:45 am - Reply

    I love the layout of your blog, and great post. Thank you for co-hosting this month!

  37. Jennifer Lane May 6, 2018 at 8:42 am - Reply

    What an interesting, fun, and visually appealing post. I’ve never had much luck at dating and the disinterested response to my latest novel shows that. 😉 Looks like I need to woo the reader better.

  38. Loni Townsend May 7, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Nice comparison of a book to a first date. Thank goodness we have the opportunity to revise, otherwise people would never return to looking at my stuff again.

  39. Cherie Reich May 9, 2018 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Fantastic advice! Thanks for co-hosting!

  40. Lisa May 15, 2018 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Sorry I’m late, but thanks for co-hosting this month. I liked your examples. I wish I would remember them when I need to!

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