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Friday, October 03, 2008

First Lines/First pages analysing

My google alert system brought up an interesting blog where an aspiring author is reading a handful of Harlequin Historical novels, including Taken by the Viking as an experiment. Hopefully she will enjoy all the books, but then I love the line. She happened to do a mixing and matching of first lines as there is the old saying about first lines hooking you in.

Personally, I do not know how true that is. I tend to buy books based on back cover copy and possibly teaser. Once I start reading, I will give it a few pages, if not a chapter or two. Also I know that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is often touted as having a killer first line. I nearly did not read it because of the first line and always found the Dursley section the least interesting bit. I persevered and rapidly became entranced. I read HP just as the hard back of the second book came out, so there was not the hype. I had picked it up at the school book fair for my eldest. But that is me, and as a reader, I am allowed to have my own quirks.

With Taken I would argue that the first line is not so much -- Annis pressed her lips together, but 8 June 793 Lindisfarne, Northumbria Annis pressed her lips together. 8 June 793 being the generally accepted date of the Lindisfarne raid. What I was attempting to do was to show the contrast between the people getting on with their lives and chaos that comes later. The calm before the storm as it were. It is a small point and I know that the vast majority of readers will probably not even know the date. But when I was writing it, that was my reasoning. Thus by the end of the scene, the bells are ringing and the raid has begun. Whether or not it works for a specific reader depends on the reader's quirks. It worked for me and I was able to write the rest of the book.

Personally I prefer to look at the first page rather than the first line when trying to analyse. Perhaps this says something about me as a reader, but I don't tend to linger over first lines.

Anyway, the big thing you want to do with the first PAGE is to give the reader a reason to turn the page and a reason to turn the next page and so on. It is about creating questions in the mind. And once a question is answered, a new one springs up. It is the entire first page that hooks the reader.

When are you analysing a first page from a published book, you need to look at how you respond as a reader, but also why did the page hook the editor. What is it about the page, even if it does not speak to you, that appealed to the editor? Can you see where the questions are raised? Why or why not would you want to turn the page? What clues do you have to the style and substance? What promise is the writer making?
Sometimes I think it is easier to analyse books that I don't love. It enables me to be more objective.

The first page has to do a lot, but its ultimate goal is to get the reader to turn the page and the next one and so on.

As a writer, the first page is often something that gets revised and tweaked. I might not even know the first scene until the last scene is written. Sometimes, I start with what I can, somewhere to hang my hat.

My revisions were turned in yesterday. Personally I think the story is far stronger but we shall have to see what my editors think. Next up is the editing of my Governess story. After doing the edits for the Viking, I know there are lots of places where I can up the tension and the pace. But I do think it has potential. And yes, Donna, before you ask I am also critqueing your chapters...
Lots of things fell by the wayside as I tried to complete this Viking.


Donna Alward said...

LOL I knew you were! And thank you. I like to think I gave you a change of pace before you started editing again. I mean after all it's the least I could do, offer you a bit of variety. :-)

Your Sister said...

I have a friend who swears by this technique to finding a good book. She reads the first word and the last word of the novel. If those two words make sense, then the book is bound to be good. It's a weird theory, but it does seem to work.