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.