Writing Prompt: Creating a Great First Page

I have a thing for the book section at the Target in my parents’ town. Whenever I go in there, I find myself flipping through new releases and thumbing through the paperbacks. My most recent purchases have been “Eight Hundred Grapes” by Laura Dave and “China Rich Girlfriend” by Kevin Kwan.

I haven’t gotten to China Rich Girlfriend yet, but it’s in my stack. I jumped at Dave’s novel after I read the blurb, though, because the plot is similar to the novel I am working on right now.

There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide… What if your beloved fiancé, he of the crinkly smile and irresistible British accent, had kept a life-changing secret from you? And what if, just a week before your dream wedding, you discovered it?

Georgia Ford, bride-to-be, hops in her car and drives through the night, from Los Angeles to Sonoma, to her safe haven: her family, and the acclaimed family winery. Georgia craves the company of those who know her best, and whom she truly knows. Better yet, it’s the eve of the last harvest—the best time of the growing season, and Georgia knows she’ll find solace—and distraction—in the familiar rituals. But when Georgia arrives home, nothing is at all familiar. Her parents, her brothers, the family business, are all unrecognizable. It seems her fiancé isn’t the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

Eight Hundred Grapes is a story about the messy realities of family, the strength (and weaknesses) of romantic love, and the importance of finding a place to call home. “This winning tale will both satisfy on a literary level and encourage oenophiles to pour themselves a glass of a recent vintage to enjoy while reading; it’s a tasty treat for wine lovers and teetotalers alike” (Publishers Weekly). You won’t be able to put this “addictive” (Us Weekly) novel down.

– From Simon & Schuster’s webpage for the novel

I thought, “This would be a great opportunity to see how someone else does it and draw some new ideas.” 

I’m about halfway through and I love it. The first page is excellent and draws you into the drama with detail, setting, and an economy of words that just seems masterful.

“My father has this great story about the day he met my mother, one he never gets sick of telling. It was a snowy December morning and he was hurrying into his co-worker’s yellow Volkswagen bug parked in front of the Lincoln Center, holding two cups of coffee and a massive slew of newspapers. (His first wine, Block 14 — the only wine in his very first vintage — had gotten a small mention in the Wall Street Journal.)”

Boom! Sets up a link into the main character’s family history right off — one that we know will be important as the plot and characters develop. The mention of her father’s wines also gives us an idea of what the setting will be. I love it! You can read the entire first few pages on Amazon’s preview here.

So it got me thinking about the first chapter of my own novel. Could I do it better? Yes. I already know that. This first chapter has been a challenge to get right but I like where I am now. It’s a first person narrative, the entire novel is, and it follows my main character on her drive to the place where she’s spending the summer with her family. It introduces a lot of the people we’ll meet later in the story, and also builds up to the major conflict that draws itself out through the rest of the book. But I want to love that first page, that first chapter, like I loved Dave’s.

In particular, I want to introduce family history early on in order to set up the environment for the novel and create suspense, interest. I decided to try it myself and did a “Chapter 1 Re-write.” I like the way it’s going, but I want to keep that original suspense that I had before. I’m planning on getting some feedback from a writer’s group soon and will see what they say about it. I think I’ll give them the original first…

First chapters are always a real bitch to write, aren’t they? Have you guys ever gotten any really good advice for writing a first chapter? How do you craft a good first line?


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