Yes that one. It’s the toughest part of a whole novel and I never thought it would be this way.
I started out with a story line. Had a beginning, middle, and end, but the first words, the first paragraph has changed more than anything else. I tried action, humor, back story, dialog, and hooking the reader with charm. As the rest of the story magically fell into place, those first words continued to haunt me.
My middle reader audience of 9-12 year olds (And even adults who enjoy a good middle read mixed in once in awhile) have busy lives with lots of distractions. They may give the story a one page read before tossing. The exception might be Xander from Xander’s Middle Grade Book Reviews. This eleven year old consumes books like Skittles as witnessed by his recent 48 hour book challenge. But Xander is an exception to the rule.
I had heard the reaction from critiques and finally a professional editor (The wonderful Bev Katz Rosenbaum) that I was not getting into the story quick enough… Show don’t Tell… hook them from the start. So my inciting event slowly moved from Chapter 2 all the way up to page 5. Still not there. I boldly slashed words trying to not look back at my perfect prose lying in the graveyard. And then early one morning, the hook arrived on the first page, the first paragraph. The sun rose brightly and birds were chirping happily outside my window. Okay, it was rainy and windy but you get the idea–I had arrived.
My first sentence may still need some tweaking but the start was now in a perfect place. Why did it take so long? A little bit of stubborness (This is my story and I’ll tell it like its supposed to be told), a lot of spending months developing the rest of the novel, and most important– forgetting who my audience is.
As I begin the sequel to my first work, I will remember three things.
1. The first page is the most important page, but it doesn’t have to be written first.
2. Place the hook in that first paragraph if possible as 20 seconds of a book store reader’s time is all you may get.
3. Keep reading in my genre and note what others are doing with their first pages. Here are some of my favorites:
AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS (Gennifer Choldenko) Today I moved to a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water.
DEAD END IN NORVELT (Jack Gantos) School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it.
SOUP (Robert Newton Peck) Dear Mrs. Peck, Your son made a rude remark to Miss Boland, our school nurse.
THE WEDNESDAY WARS (Gary D. Schmidt) Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than sun.
TURTLE IN PARADISE (Jennifer L. Holm) Everyone thinks children are as sweet as Necco Wafers, but I’ve lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten.