Hook Your Reader Now
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The first page of your book is that first impression that doesn't get a second chance. Whether your reader is a bookstore browser or an agent, the first page is the introduction to the story.
Key elements of that introduction tell the reader about the story.
RAGE: Sing, Goddess, Achilles’ rage, Black and murderous, that cost the Greeks Incalculable pain, pitched countless souls Of heroes into Hades’ dark, And left their bodies to rot as feasts For dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done. Begin with the clash between Agamemnon-- The Greek warlord--and godlike Achilles. Which of the immortals set these two At each other’s throats? Apollo Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended By the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored Chryses, Apollo’s priest, so the god Struck the Greek camp with plague, And the soldiers were dying of it.
That's just the first 15 lines of the Illiad. The reader knows the theme: RAGE. Achilles is the character. Bodies rotting. Gods. War. Emotion.
Modern readers may want a different style, but the elements are the same.
If you think immediacy your first page will draw the reader to keep reading. Get your character in action. Give them something to say. Without being heavy handed or long-winded, show (yes, don't tell) your reader where they are and when. Give your character an obstacle that shows the reader how they react.
Save physical details, long setting description, and thoughtful passages for later. Your goal in the first page is to get the reader into the story as quickly as possible.
Give your reader a taste of your story.
Here's the first passage in The Roman Heir. Do you think it meets first page criteria? Leave a comment.
“You see,” Boethius said, leaning toward Argolicus in a confidential manner, “Rome is a closed community. When someone like you whose family lineage is not from one of the great families of Rome and as a newcomer attempts to take on a centuries-old Roman position, you set yourself up for strife. You are wise to retire, go back to your provincial Bruttia and live as local nobility.”
Check Out Your Favorite Authors
Select five of your favorite reads and examine the first page. Identify the elements that brought you into the story...and kept you there.
Here are a couple of mine. The text is copyrighted so go to the Amazon page and Look Inside.
Adrian McKinty - A Cold, Cold Ground
Amory Towles - A Gentleman in Moscow
You may find yourself editing the first page more than once. The best touchstone for your first page is that it brings your reader into the story.
Nikolaos and Argolicus
The tutor, Nikolaos, plays a main role in the Argolicus Mysteries. He sees the world from a different and more worldly perspective than Argolicus, often noticing things the cerebral Argolicus misses.
His role is traditional and at the same time unusual for the period. Argolicus is a high-standing Roman citizen but he is not part or elite Roman society. He grew up in the country of southern Italy and was rich with land. Although his family was well off, they were isolated from the elite far away in Rome. Children in this situation received their education from tutors who had a favored status within the household.
Tutors were usually slaves, often from Greece, who were able to instill a Classical education in Greek and Latin. Argolicus was fortunate because his teacher educated him in geography, philosophy, literature, mythology, and geometry as well. These subjects were considered at the time the basis, along with rhetoric, for training as an orator or Senator.
Nikolaos is unique in that he teaches classical Greek athletics as well. Roman culture looked down on athletics as something only soldiers learned. This training gets Argolicus out of some scrapes that other Romans might not know. On the other hand, Argolicus is not armed, because under the rule of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, Romans (Italians) were forbidden by law to carry arms in public.
Tutor Role After Childhood
Tutors were treated almost family members, even as slaves, and often stayed with their protege long after he reached adulthood. Most, like Nikolaos, served as secretary in the same way Cicero's Tiro centuries before. Nikolaos takes copious notes at meetings and serves as a second pair of eyes observing what goes on while Argolicus is engaged in conversation.
History and Fiction
Although Argolicus was a real person mentioned several times in Cassiodorus' Variae, the details of his personal life. are unknown. His tutor, Nikolaos, is a fictional character who has encouraged a love of literature and a rational mind in his pupil and lifelong friend.
Because, in the stories, Argolicus grew up with Cassiodorus I can easily imagine a scene like that in the illustration here of the two boys studying together with their tutors.
Read to Write
Reading is the inspiration for many writers to begin their own, writing career. For me it was reading and meeting an author when I was five. That's what I want to do, was my childhood thought. Creating stories seemed like such a magical way to live a life.
As an adult, the hard truth hit that having a story idea and creating a story is a path fraught with pitfalls. When I read my first short stories now, I am embarrassed at how they lacked story. Yep, those old tropes like a beginning, middle, and end, not to mention character revelation, action, description, and a story line that engages the reader.
Yes, there were scenes that even today can bring me to tears, but the story just did not hang together.
What's a writer to do? Learn story.
The best and most lasting way to learn story is to go into other stories. For fiction writers, there are three excellent ways to experience story.
Focus On Good Writers In and Out of Your Genre
Reading books from the perspective of a writer is much different than as a reader. Once you begin the journey of writing you begin to notice things that an average reader does not.
As you keep reading, you begin to start comparing your writing--in a good way. Would you use that plot device? Would your character have that flaw?
As you continue reading with a critical eye, you begin to see how writers, even major writers, have flaws. This is where it drags. I don't believe that character would naturally perform that action or say those words.
The more you read, the better you understand story.
Audiobooks and the Moments in Time
I used to have a book in different rooms--the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room. Now that I listen to audiobooks, I usually have one reading book in the bedroom and listen to audio books on my mobile device.
Applications like audible allow you to listen to books with some very dynamic readers. As you listen to the story, you can bookmark a passage with annotations like fight scene, forest description, interior monolog, deep point of view, etc. These bookmarks help later when you are constructing a certain passage in your story.
Because audio books are on a mobile device you can listen while cooking, gardening, walking the dog, driving and many other activities of daily life that would keep you from sitting down with a book.
I've increased my fiction "reading" since I started using audio books several years ago.
The Basics of Story: Movies
Screenwriters struggle with story basics like how to keep the middle from sagging the same way novelists do. Because films are a collaborative project scripts are the skeleton for the story that allows for interpretation from directors, actors, set designers, lighting engineers, etc. But, story basics are key to a good film.
Unlike a novel which may take hours or days to read from beginning to end, a movie is two hours or less of time. And you can spend this time with friends and family as a diversion from your solitary writing time.
Those two hours are filled with sparks for ideas: plot twists, supporting character arcs, subplots, character reveals, and the crucial elements of story getting from the beginning to the end.
The same is true for film as well as books, watch in your genre and outside of your genre to see how story is constructed.
Books, Audio Books, Film
As writers, we can always improve our craft. Learning from other writers builds an accumulation of skill points that cannot be matched. Balance your writing time by learning from others.
If you are a first time writer, developmental editing can help you strengthen your story structure. Check out my content editing service on Reedsy.
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.