“Sometimes stories cry out to be told in such loud voices that you write them just to shut them up.”
– Stephen King
What is your favorite novel? I can’t you what I read during childhood, but two novels I read recently and still think about are Orphan Train (by Christina Baker Kline) and The Time Traveler’s Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger).
What makes these books fantastic? For me, the first page matters the most. If you don’t capture me with action or an interesting character, I may not be captivated enough to see the story through to the end.
The Time Traveler’s Wife—for those that haven’t read it—has multiple character viewpoints and involves time travel. Henry (a time traveler) meets his wife Claire when she is a young girl because he travels back to her timeline. But you would never know it from this first line:
It’s hard being left behind.
The line is spoken by Claire, but it draws the reader into the story. Why is she being left behind and who has left her? If you enjoy romance, this is an incredible romance story. Even if you have seen the movie (but not read the book), you must read the book. I saw the movie after reading the novel, and I felt a great portion of the book was left out.
The Orphan Train starts like this:
I believe in ghosts.
This, too, is an intriguing first line. I was drawn to the book shortly after I read The Time Traveler’s Wife, although this book is a bit different. It features heroine Vivian Daly, a woman in her 90s, who was once the rider of the orphan train. Throughout the novel, she is looking back on her life that began in New York City and took her to Minnesota. You’re going to find yourself staying up late and turning pages, just to find out what happened next.
So what makes these novels successful? And how can you make your page one jump off the page? The key is to put your character front and center. Put them into action or conflict. Don’t tell the reader what your character did, but give the reader enough information that they will want to find out more.
Here are some ways you could start your story:
A fight. Is your character involved in the fight—or are they just a standby? What part of the fight is your reader walking into as the story opens? For instance, if the first punch has already been thrown, through dialogue or exposition you have to make this known. It’s also worth considering what type of fight it may be. Is it a lover’s quarrel where they are romantically playful or it more confrontational where there is a lover’s triangle? Perhaps your main character just found out that her husband was being stolen by a mistress. Your description is going to carry your reader through the story.
The arrival of a train, bus or ship. Either your character is on it or they are waiting for it to come in. Let’s say your character is on a train. Where are they coming from? Describe their body language as the train pulls into the station. Are they meeting anybody are they on their own? Are they traveling voluntarily or against their will? Now, let’s flip it. Your character is waiting for the train to arrive, but either they don’t want to meet the person aboard the train or the person they’re meeting is not on the train at all. What happens next?
Dialogue. Think of where your characters are when the story begins. Are they in a restaurant? Did they commit a crime? Dialogue can be revealing. Authors deeply research dialogue when researching characters. Dialect, carefully choosing words and your character’s education all go into how they speak within your novel. A character that’s a doctor would speak differently than one that’s a mechanic. Make the dialogue revealing and deep, as well as authentic to the character’s age and ethnicity.For instance, you may start your story with something like this:
“Hide the shovel.”
This should spark interest in your reader. What has your character done? What kind of trouble have they pursued? Readers remain interested when the character is in action. Show them why your character has gotten into trouble; put them in the moment and you’ll have a memorable novel. Make your page one JUMP off the page and your readers will always buy your books!
What are other ways that you can start a story? Leave them in the comments below.