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First & last pages | Factsheets


The First Page and the Last Page

WritersServices Factsheet 8 by Michael Legat

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It is essential that the beginning of anything you write should make the reader want to go on reading.

If you are writing fiction, whether it is a short story or a novel, you should begin at or immediately before a moment of crisis.

It is a mistake to go on with your story beyond the point when the reader will be satisfied – for adults the Cinderella story is over once the glass slipper fits, and they will assume that she and Prince Charming will marry and live happily ever after.

Because people are more interesting to the human race than any other subject, it is wise to introduce your principal characters as soon as possible – you can fill in the background later.

A good way of arousing interest is by making the reader ask questions: ‘who exactly is this person?’ ‘what is worrying/amusing/exciting or annoying/pleasing this person?’ ‘when/where is this taking place?’ E.g. ‘Christabel ran from the room, sobbing.’ as a first sentence – the reader will wonder ‘Who is Christabel?’ ‘Why is she sobbing?’ But it is important not to leave the questions unanswered for too long.

The reader will be confused if you introduce too many characters and themes within the first few paragraphs.

While you should try to find an intriguing first sentence, you should not go over the top. E.g. If you were to begin with the words ‘He plunged the dagger into his mother’s breast’ you will find it difficult to make the rest of the story as dramatic as that.

It makes sense in a novel to give some indication of the genre of the book at an early stage, although preferably by inference rather than a formal statement.

It is important to end a story in a way which will satisfy your reader, but this does not necessarily mean that you have to tie up every loose end, provided that the main threads have been tidied away.

If you are writing an article, it is good technique to begin with the crux of the matter, preferably using an eye-opening sentence, then to expand on your theme, and to close with another eye-opening sentence which will summarise your point or round off the piece in some other way.

© Michael Legat 2001