GWS First Page Inquisition: Jeanne Ryan’s NERVE


Welcome to another Great Writers Steal First Page Inquisition, a feature in which I take a deep look at the first page of a novel and isolate what the author did to kick off their book in a successful manner.

Today, I’m analyzing the opening of Jeanne Ryan‘s Nerve, a best-selling YA novel that was released by Lionsgate in July of 2016.  Why not buy the book from your local indie?

Now let’s say that you are an agent or an editor and you know nothing about Ms. Ryan or her novel and that her work has popped up in your slush pile.  Her work, like yours, must grab the reader immediately and must waste no time in establishing the setting, characters and tone.  And it must also seem fun.  And it must seem meaningful in some way.  And it must seem commercial enough that lots of readers will want to buy it.  And the summary and first page must convince the reader that the rest of the book is worth reading.  (That’s right…the summary and first page are very important.)

Here’s the thumbnail description of Nerve

What’s working?  Here’s my thought process:

  • “Vee” is a fun name.  I wonder what she’s like.
  • NERVE, the in-book game, offers Ms. Ryan a lot of possibilities for drama and fun.  If you’ve played Truth or Dare, you know that you can do or say things you regret.
  • This “sizzling-hot” Ian sounds like an interesting development, but I’m sure there’s more to him than meets the eye.
  • The dares and stakes increase…of course they do.  That’s how stories work.
  • Vee (probably obviously) ends up in the “Grand Prize” round of NERVE…what will happen?

Nerve seems like a fun read because there’s a little bit of everything: romance, suspense, action, secrets and lies.  After reading the summary, don’t you want to check out the first page?  Here it is in total:

What is Ms. Ryan doing and how does she do it?  Let’s go paragraph by paragraph:

  • The narrative is in the first person.  She’s a girl and is likely Vee.
  • Basic exposition:  She’s working backstage in a theater at the moment; this could reflect upon her personality.  Is she shy?  Competent and strong, but uninterested in the limelight?
  • The I character is worried about a problem on the horizon…see how Ms. Ryan floats a cloud over the narrative in the very first paragraph?

  • Ms. Ryan establishes Vee as something of an outsider; she doesn’t want to hang out with the other girls, but more importantly…
  • She’s hoping not to run into a certain guy.  Drama established!
  • Basic exposition:  Ms. Santana is the drama coach (reinforcing the narrator is in a high school) and that the stress that arrives during the run of a show is affecting everyone.

  • Basic exposition:  We know from the summary/jacket copy that the ThisIsMe is a big deal.  Ms. Ryan likely had to deliberate for a while to come up with the most appropriate made-up name for a social networking site: YouFace?  MyRoom?  Friendster?  (For those of you under the age of 18, that last one was a real site at one point.)
  • More basic exposition:  The show is in performances right now.  Vee uses slightly informal language-“if your butt isn’t already here”-so we know she’s not too stodgy.

  • Basic exposition: Vee’s friend is Sydney, who is the star of the play.  Vee has dark hair and blue eyes.
  • Vee’s statement is quite revealing in terms of character.  She loves her friend, but feels inferior and less attractive.  How will this feeling affect Vee’s decisions and thoughts throughout the narrative?

  • Basic exposition:  Vee is in Seattle!  Vee is 5’4″, 100…something.
  • I love this paragraph because it reveals Vee understands that she’s being manipulated by the ads on her phone (and later NERVE, obviously), but accedes anyway.  Custom Clothz (another fake name Ms. Ryan had to make up) dangled a cute dress in front of Vee and she was swept away.  How else will she be swept away in the book?
  • I don’t think I like the cut of this Matthew’s jib.  He “sidles” up very close to Vee, but Vee hasn’t told us that the two are friendly enough to make this a comfortable action.  I wonder what happens next…

Which is the whole point.  I wonder what happen next because Ms. Ryan presents the reader with a compelling conceit and a character who has at least a couple dilemmas to work through.  Does the first page of your work in progress measure up?  What can you borrow from Ms. Ryan’s work to make your first page even more powerful?