Friday, September 10, 2010

THE WRITE WHISPER: The first 5 pages

Editors and agents read thousands of manuscripts a year and if you ask many of them, unless the first page doesn't hook them, let alone the first five, they won't read on.
So how do you make your first 5 pages memorable?
I'm a sucker for a great first line. It's a great hook to launch the reader into the rest of the story.
So how do you do it?
-raise a question
-introduce something unique/different
-reveal something unanticipated
-show something is about to change
Here are a few of my first lines to give you examples:
The bronze god was naked. (Overtime in the Boss's Bed)
"Come in and take off your clothes." (Big-Shot Bachelor)
Kristen Lewis had a thing for hotels. (Executive Mother-To-Be)
"You want me to do what?" (The Tycoon's Dating Deal)
Fleur Adams rushed into the café, trying to juggle a portfolio, laptop, umbrella and handbag while shaking raindrops from her curly hair and cursing the fickle Melbourne weather, a lousy public transport system and men, in that order. (Contract to Marry)
Maya Edison stood ram-rod straight, oblivious to the huge society crowd that had turned the funeral into a farce. (Inherited: Baby)
Each of these opening lines raises questions.
-who is the bronze god & why is he naked?
-why does Kristen have a thing for hotels?
-who is being asked to do what?
-why is Fleur cursing men?
-why is Maya so uptight, whose funeral is it & does she care it has turned into a farce?
Not all characters you create have to be 'sympathetic' or likable, but you need your reader to relate to the character so they'll continue to read the story.
Though many books deviate from this, introducing the main character in the first scene, making your reader care what happens to him/her, is a way to keep the reader hooked.
While the first line will hook your reader, it's the main conflict that keeps the reader turning pages.
Try to hint at the main conflict in the first 5 pages: a threat to the main character, an inner turmoil, something that makes the reader care.
May sound obvious but the first few pages should convey the general tone of the story. Try to give a sense of where the story is taking place without listing facts like a travelogue.
Avoid info dumping.
Avoid boring your reader with backstory.
Avoid excessive description (scenery, setting, world building, whatever)
When you submit your manuscript, you only have a few seconds, a few minutes if you're lucky, to grab that editor's/agent's attention.
Make your first 5 pages sparkle and you'll definitely have them wanting to read more.


Lacey Devlin said...

Great post Nic! I love first lines so much I actually collect my favourites because they can still give you a giggle down the track :)

Angie Peters said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Nic :) Very timely at the moment give the New Voices contest and the upcoming Romance Writers of Australia High Five competition.

Do you think the hero and heroine need to meet in those first five pages?

Nicola Marsh said...

That's a great idea, Lacey!

Nicola Marsh said...

You're welcome, Angie.

Ideally, if your H/h can meet in those first 5 pages (especially in category romance) it's a good way to hint at conflict/get the sparks flying nice and early.

That said, there are many books that don't conform to this!

Natasha said...

Thanks nic gives us something to thinks about. I always love the draw dropping first liners!

Kerrin said...

great advice Nic and very good timing for the New Voices Comp!

Nicola Marsh said...

Me too, Natasha!

Nicola Marsh said...

Good luck with the comp, Kerrin!