Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest blogger: Anna Kashina, author of Ivan and Marya, talks about the challenge of the first page

Today, I welcome Anna Kashina to The Write Type. Anna is the author of Ivan and Mayra, a dark romantic fantasy based on Russian folklore. The cover alone is intriguing enough to make me want to pick it up and read more. Great to have you here, Anna.

Thank you very much, Cheryl, for hosting my post! I am very excited to be here.

I wanted to talk about first pages and story openings. The first page is arguably the most important piece of your writing that, if written well, can sell your book. With that in mind, first pages present a separate challenge that I wanted to discuss.

You might have written a gripping story, a sure bestseller, but does it show its full promise right from the start? A slow first page can kill your chances of ever reaching your publisher – and ultimately, your audience. True, sometimes first pages just work, but more often than not the story picks up later, leaving the first pages lagging behind. Thank God for revisions.

So, is there a recipe for a successful first page?

One of the absolute musts is a catchy first phrase. But even the most wonderful, witty first phrase can kill the reader’s interest in a split second if it is not followed by the prose to match. This first phrase must be set in a context, be delivered from a strong point of view, and draw the reader into a gripping situation.

A good thing to have in an opening is an immediate, brief, but vivid sensory input that places the reader right into the setting and gives a taste of the situation. Ideally, the description should be given through action, as part of the plot, and it should move the story forward. And, it should involve as many senses as you can naturally fit into this short piece of text. Once of my favorite examples of such sensory input given through action: “The darkness tasted like bitter bark and earth, sharp berries, and cold water.” (Unseelie, by Meredith Holmes). This phrase uses vision, taste, smell, and touch all at the same time.

But wait, what about the character? Yes, don’t forget that your readers would only stay with you if they care about your protagonist. Your opening should include a brief but catchy piece of information on your character and his/her situation that would make the reader strongly relate to this person and care what happens to him/her. I don’t normally do this, but for simplicity’s sake, here is an example of my own opening phrase from Ivan and Marya: “I stood beside my father and watched the girl drown.” -- a phrase that drops the reader into the protagonist’s point of view and tells something about the situation, and the character – someone in control and clearly on the side of evil.

Last but not least – an opening hook, relayed through tension. This does not necessarily mean action – in fact, hard action on the opening page is usually off-putting because we don’t know yet who is acting and why. What you really want to do is create an anticipation of events, pose an unanswered question that compels the reader to want to know the answer. To get that answer, they flip to page 2, and so on. Coming back to the example of Ivan and Marya – the design of the first phrase leaves the reader with a question of why the protagonist is just standing there watching someone die and does not do anything about it? Who is dying and why? These questions leave an opportunity to spend some time to paint the rest of the scene without losing the reader’s attention.

Successfully combining all these elements in a short space constitutes the challenge – and the reward – of a good first page.

Anna Kashina, was born in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994. She is the author of several fantasy novels published in different languages, including the most recent, IVAN AND MARYA, a dark romantic fantasy based on Russian folklore, just out from Drollerie Press.

For more information visit Anna's web site, and make sure to watch the trailer for IVAN AND MARYA. Anna also has a blog and runs a book promotion web site, Vacation Reads that highlights recent fiction titles. She always welcomes friends, fans, and followers on Facebook and Twitter (@akashina).

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