The first page of your book determines whether the reader will continue reading or if they will move on to another book. Sometimes fantasy and science fiction writers forget how important this first glimpse into the story can be for a reader. Far too often I’ve critiqued a fantasy or sci-fi story only to find that the writer has chosen to rely on the book blurb to fill in major gaps within the story. This is a mistake if we want to keep that reader interested. As writers, it’s easy to get excited about the fantasy or sci-fi world we’ve created. We are all eager to get into the meat of the story, but do the reader a favor and pay close attention to that first page.
Begin with a fantastic hook. I’ve read rough drafts in which the writer relies on the excitement of the upcoming story to make up for a solid hook. But nothing can replace an intriguing first line. Drop the reader into the action, and keep that action going. Avoid beginning with a character’s thoughts. Action will be far more exciting for the reader than the emotions of a character with which they haven’t yet bonded.
Don’t forget setting. You don’t need to immediately deliver three paragraphs of straight description, but do give the reader something to see. Random thoughts of a character the reader has never met can be frustrating to follow, especially when the reader knows nothing about the story or the universe in which it is set. Drop a clue or two in the first sentence to show where the character is in that moment. You can add more clues over the course of the next few lines, but do give the reader something. They must be able to envision the character in their immediate surroundings for at least a page or two until you, the writer, are willing to give a full account.
Name the players. Many fantasy and sci-fi writers enjoy adding an air of mystery to their story. We choose to leave out important details and to allow the suspense of the story to climb before we drop major plot points on the reader. But remember to give the reader enough information about each character so they can at least identify with and can begin to bond with those characters. Give enough insight into each character’s personality to allow the reader to care for them early on.
Build your world. Although this fantasy or sci-fi world has been growing inside your head, the reader still knows nothing about it. Do take the time to explain details and to clarify any new terms or specifics of your world that the reader won’t know from context. It’s not enough to give an explanation on the back cover of the book and to assume the reader will know who or what you are talking about. The reader will not grow bored when you repeat the information they’ve already read from the book synopsis. They will expect it.
The best thing you can do once you’ve got your first few pages written is to get it in front of people who know nothing about the story. Not your spouse who has listened to you ramble about this idea for months. Not your children who have overheard you discussing the exciting climax while on the phone with a friend. Get this first page in front of someone who knows nothing of the story, then have them write down questions. Can any of those questions be answered by following one of the above suggestions? If so, keep honing that first page.
Your first page should be able to answer who, what, where and why, to some extent. Don’t forget, the first step to enticing a reader to read your book to the end is to get them to read past that first page.
Laura L. Zimmerman is a homeschooling mama to three daughters and a doting wife to one husband. Besides writing, she is passionate about loving Jesus, singing, drinking coffee and anything Star Wars. You can connect with her through Facebook and Twitter @lauralzimm and at her website Caffeinated Fiction at www.lauralzimmerman.com