The Importance of Constructive Criticism
|Revisions will always have their ups and downs.|
Have you ever picked up a book and been completely hooked by the first page, even the first paragraph? Here are a few examples of first pages that have hooked me in the past few months:
“The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust . . . I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.” From Paper Towns by John Green
“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something so lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere.” From Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you’re anything like me, you’ve read numerous articles and blog posts about great openings. You may have even listened to authors, editors and agents talk about it in workshops and conferences. I know I’ve talked about it here before. With that being said, I still think we sometimes get so wrapped up in our own writing (the plot, the character development, etc.) that we forget the importance of a great opening. Especially if, like me, you’re still trying to find your place in the world of writing fiction.
This past week, I sent out a few queries for my middle-grade novel. When I saw a response pop up in my inbox from one of the agents an hour later, I inwardly groaned to myself, thinking, “here we go.” But I was pleasantly surprised with what the intern who read my opening pages had to say when explaining why they had decided to pass on my submission. She wrote “It seems like you start the manuscript too far before the actual story (i.e., where things get interesting) starts.” Considering an editor at another publishing house also told me that “This is a fascinating premise . . . but in the end I’m afraid I’m just not drawn to [the main character’s] voice enough to take on this project,” I had an important epiphany.
First of all, I am thrilled that two industry professionals actually took the time to read my submission and tell me why it didn’t grab them. I realized that it is time for me to stop sending out queries and go back to my story. My opening pages aren’t hooking anyone, but I know there are parts later in the book that will. It’s time to figure out how to move the action from the middle of the book way forward and stop spinning my wheels.
I’d love to hear your experiences with opening pages of your writing projects. How do you make sure you wow your readers with the opening page? Have you ever realized you were burying the best part of your story in the second half of your book or article?
Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also blogs at Renee's Pages.