When writing a mystery or a thriller, writers strive to have the reader on the edge of their seat, eager to turn the page and learn more. According to this week’s Killer Nashville guest blog author Lynette Eason, it’s crucial to have that engagement with the reader from page one. Eason immediately drops the reader into nail-biting action, as shown in her most recent work, A Killer Among Us, When A Heart Stops, and Without Warning. With these tips and tricks, learn how to engage your reader from the opening page and have them struggling to put your book down.
First Page Punch
By Lynette Eason
As a writer, I’m deathly afraid of writing a book that a reader is going to pick up, read the first page, and be bored to death. Keeping that fear in mind as I write, my first goal is to immediately engage the reader in the story. That’s where the First Page Punch comes in. (Yes, I made that up.) What I mean by this is, my first scene starts off with action. And I don’t mean boring action.
You don’t necessarily have to have a car chase with bullets flying and bodies dropping, although that’s great if you do, but you do need to have something happening. Save the backstory and introspection for later.
For example, in my books, nobody is driving into town thinking what a wonderful family reunion she’s going to have and no one is sitting on the front porch pondering life and drinking sweet tea—unless he’s a serial killer and he’s just worked up a thirst, you know what I mean?
Here’s one of my first page openings. In A Killer Among Us, I open the story with a hostage situation. Detective Kit Kenyon is trained in hostage negotiation and is trying to talk the hostage taker into giving up. Here’s how the story opens:
Detective Kit Kenyon stared past the barrel of the gun and fixed her eyes on the man before her.
The forty-four-year-old blinked against the sweat dripping into his hazy green eyes. A thick tongue swept out against dry lips, and his gaze darted from her to the door to his wife, who sat on the floor under the window weeping softly.
Melanie, his twelve-year-old daughter, winced at the harsh hand ensnaring her long brown ponytail and never took her terrified gaze from Kit.
“Virgil?” Kit pushed gently. “Right now you haven’t hurt anyone. In fact, you’ve cooperated nicely.” Except for the part where she’d asked him to end this peacefully.
But they were getting there.
“I’ve got a clean shot.” The voice whispered in her earpiece.
Another example of a First Page Punch would be in my book, When A Heart Stops:
If she moved, would she die? Serena Hopkins kept her eyes shut and lay as still as possible in the king-size bed, doing her best to keep her breathing even.
Which was becoming more impossible by the second.
As her fear increased, so did the rate of her heartbeat and respirations.
Was he still there?
A slight rustle to her left answered that question.
I’ve given you two examples. Do you think if you picked up either book in your local bookstore and scanned the first page, you’d want to read more? If you said no, I’m not writing this post for you. If you said yes, why? Because I’ve dropped you right into the danger, right? I’ve given you someone to care about, someone who’s in trouble and needs help.
These two opening pages set the tone for the story. The reader doesn’t know the characters yet, but usually if someone innocent such as the twelve-year-old girl in example one is in danger, we’re rooting for her and the people trying to help her, right?
In example two, we have a woman who is in danger from an intruder. Our first instinct is to hope the intruder doesn’t discover that she’s awake and if he does, we hope that she’ll be unharmed. At least I hope that’s your first instinct!
All that to say, as an avid reader, I remember picking up books, reading the first page and going, “meh” and tossing the book aside.
Some authors may argue that their story gets better as you get into it. My response to them is that they should start the story where it starts to get better. Seriously. Ditch all the other stuff before it. The reader who picks up the book then tosses it aside because she can’t get past the first chapter isn’t going to know she should keep reading because things get interesting in chapter eight. Things have to be interesting on page one.
When I decided to write, I studied the craft, I attended writer’s conferences and I knew that I wanted to write stories that kept readers on the edge of their seats. In order to that, I had to keep them turning the pages. The best way to do this is to grab those readers on the first page and keep it going from there.
All the best with your writing as you deliver a powerful punch right on the first page!
Without Warning is the second book in the Elite Guardians Series. If you read it, I hope you’re immediately hooked and lose lots of sleep because you can’t put the book down!
Lynette Eason is the bestselling author of the WOMEN OF JUSTICE series, the DEADLY REUNIONS series, and the HIDDEN IDENTITY series, as well as Always Watching in the ELITE GUARDIANS series. She is the winner of an ACFW Carol Award, a Selah Award, and an Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. She has a master’s degree in education from Converse College, and she lives in South Carolina. To learn more about Eason and her work, visit her website here.
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