First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

As we’ve been seeing each week in this exploration of first pages, openings to novels carry a heavy burden. It’s the make-or-break page for the reader. Many people won’t read past the first page if it fails to engage their interest. So writers need to pay huge attention to the first page—maybe not so much at the first-draft stage, but at some point before that novel is submitted to agents or published.

First pages need to be tight, with concise description, and jump right into dynamic action and hint of conflict. Every word counts, so excess verbiage and unimportant movement and speech must be eliminated.

We’re using my first-page checklist to go through the author’s first page to see why it effectively draws the reader quickly into the story. While novels don’t have to have every one of these checklist elements on the first page, usually the more they do have, the stronger the opening.

Today we’re going to look at my favorite read of last year—The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I was a bit wary upon reading the first few pages because, for me the opening was a little slow, but it quickly become riveting, and like a train barreling down a steep ravine, the novel kept me breathless and hooked until the last page. Continue Reading…

How Writers Can Benefit by Outlining Their Scenes

sticky notes questions

We’re been taking a look at outlining scenes these last couple of weeks. Using my scene structure checklist, we’ve been seeing what elements are so necessary in scenes to ensure their structure is sound and they have all that’s needed to engage readers.

We’re in an age of “show, don’t tell,” and that means scenes are going to be packed full of action and dialogue and, well, showing instead of telling.

While many writers like to wing it, just writing off the cuff and creating scenes will only make revision harder in the long run. Scenes are the building blocks of a novel, and those who “pants” their way through scene writing will end up with a novel that is flawed structurally. Yes, this is just my opinion, one that I share with the top writing instructors and bloggers around. And I feel passionately about this.

You might argue that some very successful novelists, like Stephen King, are pantsers. But keep in mind, authors with decades of experience in writing dozens of novels usually have scene and novel structure hardwired into their brain. Just as with playing pro ball or snowboarding, once you become an expert, you don’t have to remind yourself what to do.

I’ve edited and critiqued countless manuscripts. I go through more than two hundred partial and full manuscripts a year. Most of them need a prodigious amount of work to get the structure solid. And most of those manuscripts have been carefully plotted and/or outlined. You can imagine what the unplotted manuscripts are like.  Continue Reading…

7 Tips to Creating the Perfect Antihero

batman

Today’s guest post is by Stephanie Norman:

An antihero is the central protagonist in a literary piece, movie, or comic book who lacks the conventional attributes of a hero. Unlike a traditional hero, he is characterized with aggressiveness, clumsiness, dishonesty, or other terrible habits that make him more flawed and distasteful. Nevertheless, he is still the hero of the story because his magnificent traits make him more appealing than loathsome.

Antiheroes are flawed, just as all people are. The light and the dark sides are in a never-ending battle, and their souls are the battlegrounds. Of course, the good in them has to win at some point. Otherwise we would simply call them villains.

A traditional literary hero is the perfect role model. He is brave, strong, and focused. This character always does the right thing, no matter how tempting the situation is. He is Odysseus, Cyrano de Bergerac, and the Little Prince.

Idealistic heroes rarely work for contemporary readers though. The modern heroic qualities are somewhat similar to the traditional ones, but they gravitate towards the dark side too. Readers want to see complex characters that don’t always do the right thing but are heroes nonetheless. Continue Reading…

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