Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Avoiding First Page Fumbles

Photo by Sabir
This is pretty much an insane week for me, so today's post is going to be one of my briefer ones and I'm going to focus on one thing - your first page.

Your first page is probably the most important page.  It has to intrigue the reader, draw them in, clear confusion and serve as portal to the rest of the book. 


So,  here are some tips for that first page.

*Watch your characters from the get-go.  Are the reacting to events that are happening or what you, the writer are reporting?

*Readers are drawn to characters more than anything else.  No matter your setting, matter how fascinating, don't allow it to dominate your story and overwhelm your characters. Your characters are central.

*Read your first page aloud, walk through it (really, walk your room as if it were the scene from your book).  Does it flow?  Does it feel clumsy?  Does it work?

*Remember the look of your page.  White space is imperative, long blocks of narrative can be off-putting to your reader.  Vary sentence structure and consider paragraph length.

*Don't explain anything.  Consider yourself a director of a movie or a puppeteer. Trick is making the director or the puppet strings invisible.  You want your reader to focus on the characters, the story, not on where it originates from. Not on you.

*When considering description remember, if your reader will assume something there's no need for you to describe it. This usually applies to things like traffic flow in the street, subway station platforms, arrangement of furniture in a room, etc. If you must describe, if there's a blip in that traffic flow, make description short, a few well-chosen words.

*If your character has to take part in some activity which you haven't tried - go ahead and do it.  I learned about the kick of a rifle when I wrote a western and a friend took me out to 'shoot the hill' on a ranch in Arizona.  Much different than I would have imagined, and it changed my writing.  Never walked on spiked heels? Try it. (Yes, I mean you guys too)  Ridden in a puddle-jumper plane?  Give it a shot.  If it's within your ability to experience, give it a shot - that's how I found out roller coasters make me sick. Believe me it will add color to your narrative as well.

*And try to time your writing.  The idea is to get your reader to turn the page.  If you have a gem of a line, a particularly great turn of a phrase, a leading quote - try to put it at the end of that page to draw  your reader to the next.

That first page is your attention-getter.  It grabs agents, publishers and will sometimes have content from it used by a reviewer.  Write tight.  Dump the fluff and make it shine.  It's easier to learn to do than you think. Just takes a bit of self-training.

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