This post is inspired by Susan Kaye Quinn's post highlighting an agent's first-page tips. The unnamed agent is a fan of dialogue as a way to show character and went so far as to say lack of dialogue on the first page might be a red flag. I'd never thought about the importance of first-page dialogue to show voice, but it feels like a no-brainer in retrospect.
I went searching through some good reads to see what I could find along those lines and was surprised that character-revealing first-page dialogue is hard to find. Really hard to find. There were mundane scraps of dialogue on Page 1 or more catchy stuff arrived a few pages later in an assortment of books I would rate four or five stars. In novels that are first person, the need seems lessened, because the story is told in internal voice anyway.
Still, I think this tip is worth pursuing. Here are some examples I did find of excellent books that have spiffy dialogue on the first page:
*PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White jumps right into its snappy attitude on Page 1.
"Wait--did you--You just yawned!" The vampire's arms, raised over his head in the classic Dracula pose, dropped to his sides. He pulled his exaggerated white fangs back behind his lips. "What, imminent death isn't exciting enough for you?"
"Oh, stop pouting. But, really, the widow's peak? The pale skin? The black cape? Where did you even get that thing, a costume store?"
FEED by M.T. Anderson sets the tone right away of a dystopian world where the language is slightly changed but the teen attitude is for all time.
We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Atwater was like, "I'm so null," and Marty was all, "I'm null, too, unit," but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we'd been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall. We were trying to ride shocks off them.
REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly delves into the emotional darkness of a girl who comes from a privileged life but suffers an inconsolable loss. The opening sets the tone and her sharp world view.
Those who can't, deejay.
Like Cooper van Epp. Standing in his room--the entire fifth floor of a Hicks Street brownstone--trying to beat-match John Lee Hooker with some piece of trip-hop horror. On twenty thousand dollars' worth of equipment he doesn't know how to use.
"This is the blues, man!" he crows. "It's Memphis mod." He pauses to pour himself his second scotch of the morning. "It's like then and now. Brooklyn and Beale Street all at once. It's like hanging at a house party with John Lee. Smoking Kents and drinking bourbon for breakfast. All that's missing, all we need--"
"--are hunger, disease and a total lack of economic opportunity," I say.
I'd love to hear from any of you, if you know of other examples where first-page dialogue really sets voice. I was surprised how hard it was to find examples.