Five Things to Make Your First Page Shine!

The first page is your chance to make a strong impression with your teen reader! Don’t blow it! New York Times bestselling young adult author Rachel Cohn spoke at the 2011 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day event, and shared her list of the top five things you need on page one!

The Five Things To Look For In Your Opening Page:

1)     Voice

  • This is often said to be indescribable. “I’ll know it when I read it.” Is what we hear over and over.
  • Voice is the way you speak on paper.
  • Write as if you are talking to a friend.
  • Write honestly.
  • Don’t write logically. Follow the emotion.
  • Imagine a teen in your living room and you are telling them your story. How would you tell it to keep them engaged?
  • Read other books! Hear other author’s voices.
  • Some of Cohn’s favorite author voices are: Libba Bray, David Levithan, and Patricia McCormick.

2)     Tone

  • This is similar to tone of voice.
  • It is not what is being said but how it is being said.
  • This is related to the adjectives you use.

3)     World

  • You need to show the world your characters find themselves in.
  • This doesn’t have to be epic world building like Lord of the Rings or high fantasy or dystopian.
  • Worlds are smaller. Think about the world created by author Sarah Dessen as an example.
  • Communicate how your world works to your reader.
  • Think about how your mundane and ordinary world can be seen as extraordinary to a teen.
  • Your world needs to feel like paradise before you make it feel like a prison.

4)     The Plot

  • Outlining is good! It’s really helpful.
  • Plot is what happens in the story and the order in which it happens.

5)     Conflict

  • What is in your character’s way?
  • What does your character want?
  • Do the situations your character gets into get in the way of what they want?

Rachel shared the first page of three young adult novels which (in her opinion) contain all five elements — Voice, Tone, World, Plot, and Conflict. Pick up these books at your library and see if you agree!

Example 1: The Hunger Games by Susan Collins

  • Mention of the Reaping = Tone and Plot
  • Story with the Cat = Illustrates (show not tell) the bleakness of the world.
  • Establishes the protagonist is a hunter who provides for the family and is loyal.
  • The line about love immediately shows tone and conflict.

Example 2: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

  • We get the voice from the first line.
  • We get the tone from the use of slang and the sense of darkness and mystery. Yet at the same time it’s funny.
  • The prosthetic belly tells us information about the world.
  • Immediate Conflict = She must get pregnant.

Example 3: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

  • Creates a teen voice that is direct and immediate, yet artful and smart at the same time. “The sunset was like yellow cat vomit.”
  • We get the voice immediately in the first few lines.
  • World is futuristic.
  • Plot and conflict is established in the bit about her friend getting a surgery that the protagonist herself has not had.

Rachel Cohn is a New York Times bestselling Young Adult author. Her titles include: Gingerbread, Ver LeFreak, You Know Where to Find Me, Cupcake, Shrimp and Pop Princess. She has also co-authored with David Levithan the very popular books, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which became a successful movie released by Sony Pictures. Rachel’s books have been “Best of the Year” selections by Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews. The American Library Association has also named her books to the Best Books for Young Adults and Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list.

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4 thoughts on “Five Things to Make Your First Page Shine!

  1. This is all very helpful information. I read the examples she highlighted. Perhaps her tastes are different than mine, though I liked the Hunger Games first page.

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