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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

 

The First Page


This past weekend, I attended a writer’s workshop where we had a first pages critique session. That’s when an author panel hears the first 200 to 300 words of a manuscript, and then gives feedback to attendees. Basically, what these published experts ask themselves is, “Would I keep reading after this first page?”

You don’t have to write for children to learn a lot from first page critiques. And you don’t have to write a novel, either. Because the point of a first page is always the same: you have to grab your reader right from the very beginning!

Two hundred and fifty words. That’s the average number of words in that first page. Geez, that’s not much. But that’s all that you, the writer, have to grab that editor or agent or publisher before he or she moves on to the next manuscript. So how do you make every word count?

Here are the top suggestions I heard during the critiques, and the discussion that followed:

“You don’t have to explain the whole plot on the first page, but you do have to give an idea of what the story is about.”

Don’t fill up your entire first page with lovely description of your setting. You can weave that lovely description into the plot (what the story is about). Whoever or whatever is mentioned in the first page should be important to your plot (what the story is about). Resist the temptation to throw in anything that doesn’t relate to…yeah, I think you know what’s coming: What the story is about. Which brings me to the next suggestion.

“The voice or the narrator captures the reader’s attention from the get-go. If we don’t know who the protagonist is, we won’t be interested enough to keep reading.”

Your voice must be strong right from the start! Your audience needs to care about what will happen next—and more importantly, who has something at stake in the story. Read a few of the first pages of your favorite novels, or short stories, memoirs or essays so you can see how the writer manages to invest the reader in the story, right from the very beginning.

That’s what you want in your first page. After that, the rest is easy. Well, easier.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Linda O'Connell said...

Thanks for sharing what you learned. You are awesome.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Patricia Anne McGoldrick said...

Great tips for that first page! So true that one must capture the reader's interest. Thanks for the tips.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Cathy C. Hall said...

I must rewrite my first page (or first paragraph, or first SENTENCE) about a gazillion times. It's like making caramel icing--you can't explain it exactly, but you know when it feels right. ;-)

7:12 PM  
Blogger Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Cathy,
Great advice, which I need to hear again and again.
Donna

5:26 AM  
Blogger LuAnn Schindler said...

Good advice. I think in most stories that "work," there's an immediate sense of tension on that opening page. It's the underlying current that hooks readers and keeps the story flowing. Every element you talk about adds to that tension. Now I'm going back to rewrite my first page. It's close, but it doesn't have the right consistency yet. ;)

10:05 PM  

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