Ways to Improve Fiction Writing Include Focusing on Your First Page

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We studied ways to improve fiction writing by focusing on a story's opening sentence and/or the first paragraph. You can review these ways here: Ways to Write Story Openings.

A gripping beginning is a first impression for your reader. Therefore, learn this art when crafting your first page. Let the reader step immediately into your story’s world through characterization and setting. When done well, the reader will settle into her comfy chair with a latte and follow the breadcrumbs of intrigue that your story scatters for her.

One of the ways to improve fiction writing is to keep these points in the uppermost portion of your mind as you write that first page. A successful first page opens the gate to myriad questions that keep readers engrossed. Introduce your protagonist on the first page and hint at a conflict she faces. 

Atwood points out that “. . . if you cannot get that reader through the first page, they will never read the brilliant insights into life that are on page 75. So what you want on the first page is something that is going to beckon the reader in. The first page is a gateway. It's a door. It's a door into the book.”

Ways to improve fiction writing is knowing how much to put on the first page. And knowing what not to put on the first page. It’s a balancing act. 

Tell the reader only what she needs to know but in a tantalizing way. Have her wade into your story slowly:

The single, shortest, best opening sentence of a novel in my opinion is "Moby Dick." And those three words are "Call me Ishmael." So what's packed into those three words? 

His name isn't Ishmael. Why does he want you to call him that? You have to think about then who Ishmael is, who this character is representing himself as. Ishmael is an outcast. But he is an outcast who is favored by angels. Okay, so that's two things about Ishmael. 

Call me Ishmael. Who's he speaking to? He's speaking to the reader. He's speaking in the present tense so that we know whoever else goes down with the ship, it's not going to be him. (Atwood)

Although the reader may not know all this information on the first page of the classic book Moby Dick, the author, Herman Melville, wrote in such a way as to lure the reader in. 


On the first page, Melville successfully creates a bond between the reader and Ishmael that the reader finds intriguing. The author spins a web that makes the reader eager to journey with a stranger. The web effectively generates questions in a reader's mind. She must find answers to these questions. She becomes motivated to vicariously climb aboard a seafaring vessel to set sail with Ishmael on a whaling expedition.

Ways to improve Fiction Writing Include 
Knowing What Not to Put on the First Page

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When you write your first page, avoid bogging your reader down with unnecessary information that could be confusing. Make sure your writing is devoid of misspellings and inappropriate words that mean something other than the author intended.

As an example of bogging your reader down, consider this first page:

Your character is invited to a party. She struggles to get her bearings as she walks inside a club. Music is playing. Laughter is loud. People are dancing and bustling about. There is the smell of food. The host thrusts a glass into her hand. The glass is cold and sends a shiver up her hand to her elbow. She takes a sip of the liquid in the glass. It fizzles and tickles her nose. It tastes like tart cherries.

Her host then introduces her to the hard-core partiers: Marcia Connelly, Johnnie Dunn, Jessica Allen, Taylor Thompson, Greg Morris, and a couple of other guests. When they shake hands with her, one has clammy hands, another a limp handshake, and another decides on a hug. She becomes overwhelmed.

Whew! This is TMI (too much information) on steroids. Your reader doesn’t need to know all of this from the starting gate. 

Even if the characters are integral to the story, don’t put them all on the first page. Weave them slowly into the story. Also, would your reader need to know their full names? It’s easier for a reader to remember Nikki rather than Nicole Hicks. Make your writing tight. Only write a story with the needed information.

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Avoid giving detailed descriptions of the setting unless it’s vital. Even then, you can spread out the details. Otherwise, you give the reader a chance to abandon your story. Don’t waste her time with fluff.

Ways to improve fiction writing involve learning the fine balance of what to put on the first page and what to omit. It's about triggering the initial spark of intrigue and triggering questions in a reader’s mind to the degree that it initiates an itch that must be scratched. 

When you write from this point of view, you will have a dynamite first page which will compel readers to invest their time. They will look forward to a thrilling adventure, whether it’s partying with Nikki or sailing the high seas with Ishmael.

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Atwood, Margaret. “The Door to Your Book: The Importance of the First Five Pages.” Writing Arts & Entertainment, MasterClass, www.masterclass.com/classes/margaret-atwood-teaches-creative-writing/chapters/the-door-to-your-book-the-importance-of-the-first-five-pages.