A Novel’s Critical First Page

by DiAnn Mills, @diannmills

A novel’s first page is critical to the success of a successful novel. Here the writer must hook the reader into the story:

  1. Establish genre
  2. Introduce a sympathetic character.
  3. Initiate a bond between the protagonist and the reader.
  4. Build a setting.
  5. Create a story disturbance


  1. A Strong Hook

Statistics show a reader makes a decision to purchase a book by the end of the first page. I’m worse! I choose to invest time and energy into reading a book in the first paragraph, and sometimes the first line.

The opening hook or first line of a novel plunges the reader into the story world by creating a curiosity or posing a question. Every story needs an alluring first sentence to entice the reader to continue on. The hook is the writer’s invitation to the reader to begin an exciting journey.

“Come join me in this adventure.”

The writer issues a subtle promise to readers that every word will be as powerful as the opening line. Writers spend hours delivering on their commitment. Our opening hooks establish the essence of our story and are designed to affect reader emotions.

I like what Donald New love says about opening sentences in his book Painted Paragraphs. “It is about the white-hot opening whose glow speaks for a story’s greatest strength: its spirit.”

The above quote inspires me to return repeatedly to my opening line.

  1. Genre

Establish the novel’s genre in the beginning: contemporary, historical, romance, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, western, young adult, or any of the other genres. Romance is often paired with other story types. The book cover and title often depict the type of story, but it’s the writer’s responsibility to establish genre in the beginning.

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  1. A Unique and Sympathetic Hero or Heroine

Writers choose how to characterize their protagonists and antagonists in a variety of ways that suit the writer’s personality. Whatever method is used, the result is a character who lives in the reader’s heart long after the story is over. Spend time with your characters and endear them to the reader by making them come alive. The antagonist must be better equipped to succeed in reaching the goal than the protagonist.

  1. An Antagonistic Setting

Ensure the setting is constantly working against the hero or heroine. Like an antagonistic character, the setting can be charming, attractive, and have an emotional impact on the character.

  1. A Story Disturbance

A story disturbance is not the story problem, but a frustrating intrusion into the protagonist’s life. Some writers refer to this as the inciting incident. Introduce the disturbance on the first page and resolve it quickly. How the character responds creates a bond with the reader, who becomes the character’s cheerleader. The reader is assured that whatever problem the hero or heroine faces, the result will be an adventure.

While the above five items are critical to the first page of a novel, the writer moves forward by ensuring tension, conflict, and suspense are continuously in the character’s path. Before the first one-fifth to one-fourth of the novel, a problem is introduced and the character chooses to accept the seemingly impossible. The character steps through the first doorway into the plot with a firm resolve to do everything possible to succeed.

A story explodes on the first page. Writers work passionately to emerge a reader into a story world that is unforgettable. Can you take the challenge?

High Treason

When Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal visits Houston to seek cancer treatment for his mother, an attempt on his life puts all agencies on high alert. FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is the lead on the prince’s protective detail because of their long-standing friendship, but he’s surprised – and none too happy – when the CIA brings one of their operatives, Monica Alden, in on the task force after the assassination attempt. Kord and Monica must quickly put aside inter-agency squabbles, however, when they learn the prince has additional motives for his visit – plans to promote stronger ties with the US and encourage economic growth and westernization in his own country. Plans that could easily incite a number of suspects both in the US and in countries hostile to Saudi Arabia. Worse yet, the would-be assassin always seems to be one step ahead of them, implicating someone close to the prince – or the investigation. But who would be willing to commit high treason, and can Kord and Monica stop them in time?

DiAnn Mills is an award winning writer who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She currently has more than fifty-five books published. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011. DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also a Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas. Find her on the web at www.diannmills.com.