Novel notes: The first 10 pages

I know we have lots of anxiety about those first ten pages, especially when we’re looking for an agent or a publisher, so this may seem like counter-intutitive advice:

You’re first 10 does not have to be high energy, crowded, or chaotic to “hook” your reader. Hooks are for yanking fish out of water just before you kill and eat them. Your reader isn’t a trout.

How about assuming your reader has picked up your book quite willingly. She’ll probably want credit for that. A little respect, even. You know what would be nice? A particular and focused moment. Something to care about and some ground to stand on.

Consider the opening to Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked:

    Welcome to Sunny Florida! A sunburnt man in a Crocodile Dundee hat poses in front of the Citrus Travel Shop. With one hand on his waist, the other raised and dangling a shellacked baby gator, the man in the postcard grins unnaturally and beckons the hapless tourist to come and visit beautiful Crystal Springs.

   James turned the postcard over.

   Your daddy’s dead.

   You might want to

   Come on home now.

That’s about as focused and singular as you can get, a man reading a postcard. But it’s an important damn postcard, and there is no way that Post’s reader is going to put her book down. Tree is a thrill ride of a book, but Post doesn’t need to start with the beer brawls or the car chases. She starts with a moment, the moment the postcard is turned. A moment that is easy to understand and yet compelling.

Another example is in the first pages of Steve Himmer’s FRAM. The job of his first chapter is to introduce the ridiculous secret government entity that is The Bureau of Ice Prognostication, and like all spy novels, comic or otherwise, FRAM‘s plot is wild. So how does it start? With a lightbulb. A single lightbulb that has lasted far too long:

   That bulb had crackled and hissed through his years in BIP’s office, hanging from the same few inches of cloth-wrapped cord it had in the early days long before Oscar’s time. It persisted despite losing some luster, despite ancient filaments fraying and sizzling and threatening to snap.

What a simple image, full of portent.

Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. Sure, the first chapter ends with the killer plowing a car through a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair, but it doesn’t start there. It starts with a careful and intuitive study of two characters waiting in that line–people with all too real economic problems, who–after we get to know them and care about them–will be run over.

I don’t have anything very sophisticated to say about this. Just putting it out there that sometimes it’s a good strategy save the noise for later and use those opening pages to establish a relationship with the reader. Try centering her first, then knock her off her pins.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Novel notes: The first 10 pages

  1. Steph Post says:

    I agree completely. (and appreciate the shout-out)

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