I worked on updating a web site this week. Creating websites began as a hobby some years ago as a means of taking my mind off the chemo and radiation treatments I was going through. Then a friend and I formed a partnership and I ended up designing and managing more than 20 sites for organizations and businesses around town.
When my partner moved out of the county, we decided it was time to retire and dissolved the partnership. I kept one paying client and manage four others as a volunteer. Oh, and mine.
One thing I learned early on is that the Home Page had better pop. You don’t want people to take a look, yawn, and go on to something more interesting. So you use color and design and font size and art and every trick you know to make the page interesting and attractive.
What has this to do with writing?
The first page of a book is much the same. It has to reach out and grab the reader. It has to make her want to continue reading, not shut the covers and put it back on the shelf.
You can’t do much about the design. You’re pretty much stuck with black and white on a 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 page. I guess you could put the page numbers right, left, or center, but that’s about all the creativity you’re allowed. (However, like a web page, the font should be easily legible.)
For color, substitute conflict that begins with the first sentence. For art. describe the scene so that the reader pictures it as clearly as you do.
A web site uses movement–not those cute animated GIFS everyone was using a few years ago, but slide shows and videos A writer creates action by immediately involving his characters in a situation. Dialogue moves the action along.
And at the end of the page, the reader is impelled to turn it to see what happens next.
My analogy stops there. A menu bar is nothing like a table of contents. A reader doesn’t skip from chapter to chapter, pushing this button and that.
But the rest stands. You have to create an attention-getting first page or all the work you have done on subsequent pages will never be seen–or read.