How Do You Start? The First 250 Words: What They NEED to Accomplish
Ready, set, START! Where do you you start your books? How do you get into your stories?
There are many things that the first page needs to do. Two hundred and fifty words isn't a lot of time to get the attention of an agent, but generally, that's all you get. It's unfortunate, but most reject in the first paragraphs, so drawing them in within that first page is a MUST. But once you do, if your pages follow through on the promise of your first, you're sure to get someone's attention!
How do you draw in a reader, though? What do you need in your first 250 words?
Well actually, you need to do a LOT. Your first two hundred and fifty words are the workhorse of your book. They pull the weight of your manuscript.
You will need to Introduce and Connect to Character, preferable a Main Character. It doesn't matter if your MC isn't terribly likable, or trustworthy, but a reader had to have some kind of connection to them. You will need to make your MC human and reachable. Your MC must have emotions. I'm not saying that they must emote all over the place, just that we need to feel what the MC is feeling so that we understand where the character's reactions are coming from.
Another task that must be accomplished in the first 250, you must Ground the World with Setting. Be descriptive. Let the reader know where they are. Help them imagine a rich world around them. If the character can react to the setting, all the better, it will help create that connection.
Grounding setting will also help to Establish Genre in many instances. Castles and sword fights in forests are fantasy. Epic space battles and decks of ships are science fiction. Medical settings can be thriller, or even romance or possibly literary fiction, depending on voice and style.
Establishing Voice and Style will help to establish genre. However, this is what will set your book apart and make it yours. The way you write is not replicable. There will always be style and voice differences between you and the next person who writes in the same genre. Your style is your own and the voice you choose to speak from, whether it's the MC's, an omniscient narrator, or some random schmoe in your book is what is going to make your book sing.
The last is often a sticking point for many writers. You must Create Tension in the first 250 words of your book. There must be a force driving the story forward and enticing a reader to read more. There is a debate whether or not introducing the inciting incident is a MUST, and I tend to write the inciting incident into the first page of my books. However, as long as the inciting incident is in the first chapter (according to most of my research) it seems to be fine if the tension of the first page is merely something that drives the story to the inciting incident. But there must be something that sparks a reader's interest, and nothing but a good sense of tension does that.
It seems like such a short list of things, once it's down on a blog page. But the challenge of it is difficult. Getting all these little things in, as well as telling a story, it's hard. I go so far as to perfect my first page before continuing on with my works-in-progress, so that I don't have to rearrange entire chapters to fit a badly written first page that I must rewrite ten times.
How do you write your first page?