As many new writers learn, the job of the first page of the story is to hook the reader. There are many cheap ways to do that–like a dream or the reader finds out that the first thrilling five pages are part of the a story the main character is reading. But if you can kick off the plot at the beginning as well as establishing the major characters and setting, you are also creating a hook for the reader that genuinely reflects what they can expect in the story.
Below is the opening paragraphs to my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, with analysis
- 1. I’M NOT FOOLED, RAE. YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER.
This novel is a mystery and the first line kicks it off by showing what somebody wrote in an anonymous note.
- 2. I stared at the sheet of copier paper in my hand as the note fluttered in a gust of January wind.
The reader knows that this “I” is a female named Rae. When you write in first person, you need to establish right away if the narrator is male or female, so readers can start imagining the character. A disembodied personality will turn off readers. I’m also setting the scene in this paragraph—it’s January and Rae is outside.
- 3. Really? It had only taken three weeks for someone to hate me and my mom enough to leave an anonymous insult?
Since the entire novel is told from Rae’s POV, every word is supposed to be from her. The first paragraphs are the readers’ introduction to her personality. I also work in some backstory.
- 4. Turning over the envelope, I saw my address was written in the same marker, same all-caps style. It was postmarked. I must have missed it when I grabbed my mail last night.
These are details to help the reader see the setting and the action. It also shows what kind of mind Rae has, since she’s examining the letter, not just reading it
- 5. Shivering on the miniscule landing to my apartment, I blew out a sigh, which formed a little cloud in the freezing air. At least the idiot hadn’t crept up to my mailbox in the dead of night. I shivered again, and it wasn’t from another gust.
More scene setting, more thoughts to get to know Rae.
- 6. People could hold a grudge in Marlin County, Ohio. I’d learned that in the last three weeks since I discovered Mal was my dad and announced Bella Rydell was my mother. The strained smiles, cold stares, conversations that didn’t get much past “hello” and “I’m fine.” Mom had made a lot of enemies, but that was twenty years ago. I’d told everyone who asked the story of how she’d been saved and changed her life. Well, most of it.
Just enough backstory to help readers understand Rae’s thoughts about the note
- 7. I shoved the piece of paper back in the envelope, tossed it inside my apartment, and locked the door behind me.
Action and scene setting.
- 8. Holding my tripod and a roll of leftover bulletin board paper in one hand, I clutched the strap of my backpack with the other and climbed down the icy steps to the pad in front of the garage. Picking my way across Mrs. Blaney’s snow-covered lawn, I pulled the keys to my ancient truck from the pocket of my down vest. The Rust Bucket sat by the curb, draped in a thin layer of snow that couldn’t disguise its demolition derby appearance.
More action and scene setting. I provide specific details about the scene such as “holding my tripod”, “clutched the strap of my backpack”, “my ancient truck”, to help readers “see” the scene and to know Rae better. The action, thought, and setting work together to carry the plot, which is the mystery surrounding who wrote the nasty note and why.
What stories have you read that do a great job to kick off the plot at the beginning and hook readers on the first page?