The first few pages…

I’ve had to slack on this blog, as I’ve been overwhelmed with commercial orders and various life issues. I’ve tried to pencil in time to keep reading before bed, though, and in starting the book “How to Read Novels Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster, I’ve found something worth sharing.

The first chapter (on first pages) states:
We need first pages -and so do novelists. Right from the top, a novel starts working its magic on readers. Perhaps more remarkably, readers also begin working their magic on the novel. The beginning of the novel is, variously, a social contract negotiation, an invitation to dance, a list of rules of the game, and a fairly complex seduction.

The reason why the first few pages of a novel is a seduction, Foster explains, is because the writer is asking the reader for a large time commitment without giving much of a guarantee of what’s in it for them. He goes on to say that the very first line is immensely important because it must pique the interest of the reader and deliver some promise that there is a worthwhile story to follow.

What else does the first page contain, besides the hook? Foster points out 18(!) things:

  1. Style: How the story is written in a technical sense. Short sentences, modifiers, etc.
  2. Tone: Is it ironic? Matter-of-fact?
  3. Mood: How does the voice “feel” about the story it’s telling? Guilty? Angry?
  4. Diction: What kind of words are used? Complicated? Simple? Challenging or rare?
  5. Point of View: This is obvious, but it has a huge effect. (See: how I refuse to read anything in first-person present tense.)
  6. Narrative Presence: Who is telling the story and how do they fit in?
  7. Narrative Attitude: How does the person telling the story feel about the characters and events?
  8. Time Frame: When is it happening?
  9. Time Management: How fast or slow will time progress in this story?
  10. Place: Setting (locale) plus the environmental impact of that locale on the story/characters.
  11. Motif: Things that happen again and again. Language patterns, repeated actions or consequences.
  12. Theme: “The idea content of the novel,” per Foster.
  13. Irony: Or lack thereof. Can show up in narration, dialogue, etc.
  14. Rhythm: You should know what this means!
  15. Pace: Is this going to be a sprint or a marathon? The depth of detail and words used can convey alacrity or leisure in pace.
  16. Expectations: The writer expresses what kind of reader he expects the story to reach.
  17. Character: Not always the first page, but the protagonist usually shows up pretty quickly.
  18. Instructions on how to read the novel: All of the other elements combine to quietly inform the reader how the book should be read. The reader may or may not comply.

Of course, Foster goes into much more detail about these elements and more, but you get the idea. Don’t skimp on your first pages, because they contain “the DNA” of your entire book. It looks like this book about reading is also a valuable insight for writers. I recommend giving it a read, and I’ll keep you posted on anything else useful that I dig out!

Amazon: How to Read Novels Like a Professor

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About jpaulroe

Freelance writer and content producer.

One response to “The first few pages…”

  1. julieadl310 says :

    The first impression is SO important. Thank you for this reminder.

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