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First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: Cinder

This week, in our examination of first pages of best-selling novels, we’re taking a look at a best-selling teen fantasy novel by Marissa Meyer called Cinder. We’re using my first-page checklist to go through each author’s first page to see why and how 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.

Regardless of genre, all novels need to start off with a bang, and readers open to a first page with a sense of anticipation, hoping the author will deliver on the promise of an exciting beginning.

Sadly, way too many novels begin slowly, with excessive narrative, summary, backstory, and explanation. While this was a common practice and acceptable decades ago, readers today want to be immediately immersed in the present action. The challenge for novelists is to find ways to bring to life a scene rich with sensory detail and introduce a compelling character (usually the protagonist) that readers will be intrigued by all on the first page.

A tall order? Sure. But is it really necessary to get all that on the first page (and without all that explaining and narrative)? Maybe you have the patience to read two or three or ten pages of a novel before it “really gets underway.”

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t. A whole lot of readers (sorry, including me) will opt to stop reading if the first page doesn’t engage them. Maybe they’ll give a favorite author the benefit of the doubt and read more pages than usual if they’re struggling through a slugging opening. I’ve even read an entire novel on occasion that I didn’t particularly like just because of my “loyalty” to an author.

I don’t feel like doing that anymore though. My time is too precious to be wasting time reading boring novels. Sorry, just being honest here. Continue Reading…

First Pages of Best-Selling Novels: The Martian

The Martian is a beautifully structured novel (and a terrific movie), and it draws readers right into the story on the first page. For those who saw the movie, you’ll notice the novel doesn’t begin the same way. It begins in a better way for a book because rather than focus on the plot events that lead up to Mark Watney being left behind on Mars, it gets you right where you need to be—in Mark’s head and hearing his voice.

The Martian is a great example of strong first-person character voice. Perhaps (to me) the most engaging and powerful element you can introduce on your first page is a compelling character.

Sure, it’s important to have that character be doing something that is interesting, but often first scenes start out with little happening, as we saw in the last two overviews (See Me and Flight Behavior). Neither of those novels had characters doing much other than thinking, and that’s not always easy to pull off well.

The challenge with that type of opening is to make the writing style and the character’s personality strong enough that they intrigue the reader without the need for dynamic action. Putting a “nonactive” character in a curious or dangerous predicament can also create that tension to hook readers. Continue Reading…

The Secret to a Great Plot Lies in Scene Structure

Do you want to know what the secret is to a great plot? If you read last week’s post, you already know the answer. No, it’s not having a fantastic concept and kicker. That’s not plot.

We’ve been looking at a special way to think of plot. Yes, it’s my way, but I’ve found this understanding of plot has helped hundreds of my editing clients. Too many writers have great plot ideas and elements, but few really have a clue how to take all those great bits and turn them into a great novel. They often succumb to the false belief that their cool concept will somehow convert into a great novel.

The Daunting Chasm

There seems to be a huge chasm looming in front of many writers—with no bridge across. On one side stands the writer with all these terrific ideas, characters, themes, and conflict. On the other side is this nebulous thing called a coherent, finished novel ready to jump to the top of the best-seller lists. This seems to be the drop-off point for most novelists—ending in a long, painful fall to the bottom of the chasm. Continue Reading…

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