Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tip O'Day #17

Make sure your first page engages the reader.

You walk into a book store (for future readers – a retail establishment selling words printed on paper). You pick up a book and turn to page one. You might read for 30 seconds or so, maybe 15-20 lines of text, to see if the prose has any appeal. Sometimes that's all it takes - Grisham's "A Time to Kill" had me hooked from the first few lines.

So that's the test: does the prose intrigue us? Does it set up a dramatic or humorous situation, a unique character, or a fascinating locale? Does the author have a Voice that grabs us by the collar and won't let go? Is there some intangible quality to the writing style that we've admired in other books? For a real eye-opener, check out the one-page posts on WeBook website. Some are awesome but it’s amazing how other wannabe authors can fill a page with word after word and yet NOTHING HAPPENS. For some amazing examples of first paragraphs, check out Nate Bransford’s “finalists” blog post – link is to the right.

Allow me to inflict upon you an early version of the opening for my crime thriller, "Montana is Burning”. I don't have the emotional distance to tell whether this is any good, but my aim was to intrigue the reader with an interesting protagonist, locale and situation.

Paul Longo eased his lanky frame into a chair at the New Accounts desk and waited for the statuesque blonde – Elizabeth from her nametag – to get off the phone. Her shimmering emerald dress clung to all the right places. Paul didn’t mind the wait. He looked around the lobby. A small bank for a small town. Some of the windows had the bluish, dimpled look of antique glass. The pressed tin ceiling looked authentic, suggesting the building was a hundred years old or more.

The guy pushing through the copper-and-glass doors didn’t seem the slightest bit authentic. A little man, maybe five-foot-four and 130 pounds, who looked full of meth. Bulging eyes flicked nervously around the lobby, and one cheek twitched a furious beat. Still had prison pallor from his most recent stint. Both hands jammed deep in the pockets of a down vest, despite the unusual autumn heat.

Detective Paul Longo slipped the 44 caliber Super Redhawk from the shoulder holster and dangled it behind his chair. The end of its nearly ten-inch barrel touched the floor.

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