One of the most difficult things to do when starting a new book is creating that magnet on the first page that draws your reader into the story and impels them to turn to the next, then the next. On and on, letting the pace mount and the fascination grow.
I have read so many books by writers where the first page[s] don’t have that magic, magnetic pull, so I’m obliged to throw them to one side. Life is too short to stumble on through endless, scene-setting, meandering prose, wondering when the main protagonists are going to take shape and form and when the action is going to start.
Sometimes the magnet is no more than the first sentence, short and snappy, full of the promise of exciting things to come; and it makes you curious enough to want to read on. I spend as much time creating these first, important words as the whole of the first chapter. Maybe I succeed. Maybe I don’t. However, I give great importance to this tiny bit of writing and most of the time I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.
Here are just two examples, bearing in mind that we don’t all have the same taste in reading matter. I write multi-genre books – mainly historic, romantic suspense around the early 1900’s as well as contemporary. The book I’m working on at the moment, is a contemporary romance. It has only two words of dialogue to kick-start it and give that all important ‘carrot’ to entice the reader to read on.
“This affair!” [Which also happens to be the title of the book.] The words hit the heroine like a shock wave as she sits across the breakfast table from her husband, who has just uttered the words. He glares at her above his morning newspaper. She is suddenly drowning in guilt over something that happened five years previously…
My second example is the first page from “To The Ends of the Earth” which I wrote after an inspirational trip to Patgonia:
[Four 5-star reviews on Amazon – here’s just one of them:
I loved this book!
By Pamela Fudge on 2 February 2017
I loved this book. I was pulled into the story from the first page. It is a beautifully written novel, peopled by characters who, quite literally step off the page, it was a most enjoyable read and I highly recommend it
First, there was the dust cloud. It appeared small on the Patagonian horizon like tumbleweed; a rolling ball of pampas grasses chased before El Pampero. This constant summer wind blew relentlessly across the Andes from the west, until it arrived at the small coastal towns around the Valdes Peninsular.
But this particular cloud of sun-dried, wind-blown dust that day in 1900 was not caused by tumbleweed. As it grew in size, drawing ever nearer to the scattering of log cabins belonging to the tiny Welsh settlement town of Puerto Daffyd, the cloud took form and shape. The hollow thud of hoofs could be heard long before watching eyes made out the shimmering shape of a young woman on the back of a sleek black stallion.
She rode astride, gaucho style, long legs clad in guanaco hide trews. Her white shirt in fine cotton, clinging to her breasts left no doubt that she was female – and shocked the group of Chapel ladies watching her arrival from behind prim lace curtains.
“Here she comes,” announced the Widow Evans, whose house it was, as if she was the only one to see.
“Gwyneth Johnns, is it?” One of the other women struggled to see past the heads of the women assembled at the window. “I never expected to see her again, look you; but she still comes, brazen hussy that she is.”
“Aye. How does she have the face to show herself where all is known of her?” Cups rattled indignantly on saucers, tea was spilled and no attention paid to it.
So, what does this ‘magnetic carrot’ tell you? Before you have reached the end of the first page you know where, when and who. You know that the heroine is no ‘lady’ in the eyes of the very proper Victorian ladies of the town. The fact that she rides astride the stallion like a man, not caring how she appears, tells us that she is no weakling of a female, but strong and passionate. She is infamous – but for what? This is not a fluffy-pink romance. It’s an adventure sprinkled with danger, violence, betrayal and love, the whole set in the wild plains, breath-taking mountains and glaciers of Argentina and Chile. Ideal reading for armchair travellers.
Unless you have a strong literary bent I suggest you stay away from ‘clever’ writing. Many years ago, I used to think that to become a published writer you had to show the world some kind of amazing grasp of English. Good literary writers are few and far between and the story often gets buried among the beautiful prose. Books that have little dialogue are lacking in characters that have flesh, bones and emotions. My agent, when he took me on before I was published, told me: “You’re trying too hard to be a writer.” I wasn’t sure what he meant back then, but it became obvious when I started writing from the heart instead of the head. Instead of describing in prose my characters, I let them speak to my readers in their own words and then they became more real. They are largely responsible for telling the story. My job is simply to introduce them and a little of their background – and get the readers to turn that all important first page, eager to discover what lurks beyond.
Forbidden! – Here’s a taste of my latest novel; war, violence, rape, incest, conscientious objectors, prisoners of war; family secrets; and passionate, forbidden love. I can’t wait to get on with it.
The world exploded and went on exploding all around the young British soldier. He had never heard a noise quite like it. It was too loud, even, to hear the cries and the screams of his comrades who seemed to be flying in pieces into the air, just like he was. However, what he thought his saw through dust-filled eyes were dismembered bodies, arms, legs, torsos. Before he hit the ground he imagined he saw the head of his best pal, Rooney, stupid sod that he was, flying past his line of blurred vision, that cheeky grin still fixed on his face. He’d just had his sixteenth birthday and they got drunk on the CO’s secret stash of rhum, which they had pinched while he was having a meeting about battle tactics because they were due to cross No Man’s Land in a day or two, if camp rumours were to be believed.
“Hey, Rooney, ye daft bugger. Where’s the rest of ye?”
Did he shout that out loud, or was it just an imagined echo in his head, penetrating the high-pitched whining in his ears as enemy shells exploded all around him?
An explosion too close for comfort sent Private Jack Williams of the 19th Northumberland Fusiliers, again flying through the air, then he hit the ground hard a second time. The earth beneath him vibrated. Rivers of blood-stained mud poured over the barren incline where once golden maize crops had grown. Rivulets of the rust-coloured liquid coursed towards him, soaking into his tattered battle-dress uniform, finding its way around him and further down the hill he and his comrades in arms had just climbed, full of courage and pride and shouts that they would bring the bastard Germans down, annihilate the bloody Hun.
That was a laugh, Jack thought as he lay there, unable to move, unable to see or hear. The ground beneath him had stopped vibrating. He supposed that that meant the battle had ended. Either that, or he was dead. He wondered, quite calmly, now many pieces of him were missing. It hadn’t hurt, whatever went off beneath the running feet of his infantry battalion. The force and the speed of it happened too quickly. If he was still alive, he knew the pain would come soon, but for now he was content to lie there, unmoving. Lie there and pray, though he wasn’t a religious lad, not like his mother who was always to be found with her nose in her Bible and on her bony knees by her bedside every night.