Page one is make or break. You know this, right? Think about how you choose a book in the bookstore. You look at the cover, you look at the back. Read the flap copy. Then you read page one. If you aren’t enchanted or intrigued? No sale.
Does your page one make the reader yearn for page two? See if your work in progress passes this first page must-do test.
Who is the main character?
In almost every instance—and I’m sure you can think of times it doesn’t, but let’s just go with usually here—the main character must be revealed on page one.
I’ve read books where he/she isn’t present, of course. Just as you have. And doesn’t it annoy you when, for instance, that person gets killed? Or turns out to be a vehicle? Or provides fake conflict? Or is there because the real chapter one is boring? It’s phony and distracting. Give your reader a chance to latch onto the character who’s going to be with them through the next 400 pages.
Page one is the moment reader and character connect, the moment they bond, the moment that crystallizes your story.
Where does this story take place? And when?
Also—please say where you are. If action takes place in limbo, or some sort of black box, it means the reader cannot envision it. Think like a movie director. How can we picture this? What does your book need to ground it in time and place? It needs a setting. On page one—take us there.
Page one needs stakes. Why does this book exist? What does the character want, and what will they do to get it? It may not turn out to be the ultimate question of the book. It’s simply the question or goal your character needs to address at the beginning.
And if you are really skilled, page one will also have a hook, or a falling domino. An out-of-whack event, a life change, a disaster, a change from normalcy, a call to action. What calls your character to action is the same thing that’ll keep the reader on board.
And if you are super good—what happens on page one will be reflected or mirrored or referenced on the last page of your book.
The key of page one—and we’ll talk more specifically soon, with examples from iconic first pages—is to command attention and inspire curiosity. And remember—confusion is not the same as suspense! If your readers don’t know the basics on page one: who what where when and why do I care—your page two will never be read.
Go back and look at yours
Does it pass the page one checklist? It’s often an easy fix.
Now. Get writing.
PS: Need extra suggestions? Take a look at Laura DiSilverio’s companion piece to this one, How to Start a Novel.