Thursday, September 8, 2011

Writing That First Page

For me writing the first page is the hardest part of writing a novel. I'll compare it to meeting someone for the first time. The conversation is a little stilted. You're in that awkward getting to know you phase. A few chapters in and the awkwardness has faded. You're old friends now who can't wait to catch up and plan your next adventure.

But as writers we must conquer the first page. Sometimes an agent or editor doesn't read any further. In the October issue of Writer's Digest, literary agent, Kristin Nelson uses four first page examples and only one of the four passes muster. She writes, "Trust me when I say that after an agent has read hundreds of thousands of sample pages--as my colleagues and I have at Nelson Literary Agency--we know."

Ms. Nelson stopped reading for the following reasons:

1. Too much dialogue.
2. Overuse of description.
3. Lack of tension.

If you get a chance, pick up a copy of the magazine. You can absolutely see her points.

I was thrilled to discover another article in the October issue called, "Your First 50 Pages The 4 Goals Your Beginning Must Meet." I am in the process of applying these rules, not only to my first 50 pages, but to the very first page. The opening should:

1. Introduce the story-worthy problem.
2. Hook the reader.
3. Establish the story rules.
4. Forecast the ending.

This is a harder exercise than it looks, but I am much happier with my first page from applying the concepts from this article.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to receive a critique from Richard Peck. He gave me this bit of advice regarding first pages: Always rewrite the first page after you've written the last one. That really ties in well with #4 Forecast the ending.

What are your thoughts regarding the infernal first page? I'd love even more pointers on how to make them sing!


  1. I like forecast the ending. I love bringing things full circle. But I really need to think about how this applies to my work-in-progress.

    My big rule is make the reader care about the character/problem.

    Establish the story rules is truly fascinating - I suppose that means give the reader a feel for how this story is set up. Or maybe it means something else. I need to think about this some more too.

  2. Establish the story rules means, "However you begin the story --voice, tone, the way the story is narrated -- that's the way it has to continue up to and through the ending."

  3. First pages are tough, but I thought that first 50 pages article in "Writer's Digest" offered some great advice. And I've always loved Richard Peck's suggestion. It makes perfect sense to me.

  4. The article was great. Thanks for the "Writer's Digest" tip.