Books

Kelley Armstrong's tips for writing the first page of your novel

The bestselling novelist and judge of The First Page student writing challenge for 2019 shares some writing advice.
Kelley Armstrong is the bestselling author of more than 40 books. (Kathryn Hollinrake)

Kelley Armstrong has written more than 40 books, including the bestselling young adult series the Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising. Most recently she published the YA book Aftermath, middle-grade novel A Royal Guide to Monster Slaying and adult thriller Alone in the Wild.

Armstrong is bringing her writing prowess to judge CBC's First Page student writing challenge, which invites grade 7 to 12 students in Canada to write the first page of a novel set in 2169 that imagines how a current-day event has unfolded in 150 years. 

Students can enter online between Nov. 4 and Nov. 25, 2019. Visit cbc.ca/thefirstpage to learn more.

Below, Armstrong shares tips for how to approach the first page of your novel. See her tips for writing futuristic fiction here.

Visit cbc.ca/thefirstpage to learn more about The First Page student writing challenge. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

From the desk of Kelley Armstrong

Before you begin, check out the tips below, but the most important thing is to just start writing. Don't get too hung up on starting in the right spot. Once you've written a chapter or two, you can come back to this list and revise and edit that opening page.

1) Start with an active scene.

It doesn't need to be actual "action." In fact, an actual fight/chase/action scene usually isn't the right place to start. We don't care about the characters and stakes yet. Instead, start with something happening. Don't show us your character thinking or reflecting or explaining. Have them doing something interesting or intriguing.

2) Combine action with emotion.

Don't just tell us what your character is doing. Give us a sense of how they feel about it. They should have some emotional response to what is happening, and for an opening scene, the best responses are the negative ones, such as anger, fear, anxiety, worry or apprehension.

3) Remember: The opening scene is a promise to readers.

It's a promise that says "If you like this, stick around... and if you don't, maybe this isn't the book for you." To achieve that, your first scene should reflect the tone of your story (dark or light, fast-paced or leisurely.) It should also demonstrate the point of view and tense (first-person, third-person, past tense, present tense etc.) Try to establish the genre as well (literary, mystery, science fiction or fantasy, et cetera). A reader who is enjoying an opening chapter that seems to be a romantic comedy will not be pleased if they later realize they're actually reading a dark thriller.

4) Raise questions for the reader.

Questions are the lure that pull readers through your story. Right from the first page, readers should have questions that will keep reading. For example, if people in your futuristic novel have gone back to using landline telephones instead of cellular, readers will wonder why. Don't explain it right away. Let them wonder for a while and keep reading for answers.  

5) Done your first page? Now edit it.

Be brutal. Look at every piece of information you give the reader — about the world, the characters, the backstory — and ask yourself whether they need to know it right now. If not, move it farther into the book. Everything in that first scene should be there for a reason. You're trying to hook the reader, and you need to do that as efficiently as possible.

That's the basics of your first page. Pick an active and interesting scene. Write it. Then return to this list and edit and revise until it's a zinger that will yank your reader into the story and keep them there.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now