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First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: The Way of Kings

We’ve been examining the first pages of best sellers these past weeks and have looked at quite a variety so far—of writing styles and genre. We note with a lot of these successful novels that their first pages are often creatively done and “break the rules” regarding narrative, telling instead of showing, getting right into action, and having the main character quickly engage in dialogue or some other interaction with other characters.

While these rules are often repeated to writers, it’s clear they can be broken. What’s the point of “rules” then? Good question. Experienced novelists may open their story with enough essential ingredients that they still grab readers and arouse mystery and curiosity.

As you read these weekly posts and examine novels on your own, pay attention to the elements these proficient writers introduce right away that work. As you can see in these breakdowns using my first-page checklist, most of the important features of a successful first page are nailed by these authors. They may have mostly narrative and no dialogue. They may even open with the weather (heaven forbid!). They sometimes use a lot of passive sentence construction.

I think Robert Goolrick deliberately tried to break every rule in his best seller A Reliable Wife. His novel starts with twenty pages of nothing happening. A man stands on a railway platform waiting for a train. There is no action or dialogue. And yes, it starts with the weather and the first sentence begins with “It was . . .” While I didn’t care for the novel myself, many rave about it. Just shows there is room for a lot of variety in styles and tastes. Continue Reading…

First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: The Time Traveler’s Wife

This week, in our examination of first pages of best-selling novels, we’re taking a look at Audrey Niffenegger’s very creative and complex novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. This novel has been called a romance, a magical realism novel, fantasy. It’s a hybrid of many genre elements, and while that often poses a big problem for targeting a reading market, the strong premise and clever structure transcend the usual barriers to drawing in readers.

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.

Of course, the plot and premise of a novel is going to come into play here. Genre also influences what kind of opening scene will work best for a story. While there are a lot of ways an author might begin, regardless of genre, plot, and premise, opening pages need to grab readers’ attention and keep them reading.

Niffenegger breaks some of the “rules” of opening scenes, as do many big-selling best sellers. As you may have noticed in this series so far, this seems common. Those opening pages are crafted creatively to draw readers quickly into the story situation, full of mystery and/or conflict. She spent five years writing this novel, and, not surprisingly, she wrote the scenes out of order, beginning with the ending. This kind of story lends itself to being written that way!

Similar to Gone Girl, this novel alternates between two characters’ points of viewthose of husband and wife, in first persongiving readers a close personal look at dual protagonists and their core needs and inner conflict. The result is a heavy emotional ride, and in this novel the circumstance of Henry’s condition is the source of all emotion, conflict, and plot development. Continue Reading…

Scene Structure: Opening Hooks

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at excerpts from past posts on Live Write Thrive that tie in with our exploration on scene structure.

From Hook ‘Em on the First Cast:

 Hook, Line, and Sinker

What is a hook all about anyway? It’s a line that snags your reader and pulls them into the story. Often someone flipping through your book or looking at the first page online at will just read the first few lines. I have heard agents and acquisition editors say that they will pretty much decide to either stop or continue reading based on that first sentence, or possibly the first paragraph.

Yikes! So, that first line should be a doozy and one that really makes an impression. As I said before, don’t get so hung up on writing that first paragraph that you don’t move forward. You will probably come back and rewrite it, unless you came up with an opening line ages ago and now you’re finally putting that masterpiece in place. Sometimes as we’re writing our novel a great first line will come to us. Other times we’ll find a great first line somewhere on page three or four. Continue Reading…

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