Monday, July 9, 2012

First Pages

More from the SCBWI Regional conference I attended a few weeks ago. If you've never been to one, the workshops always include a session on first pages. Attendees submit their first page and the facilitators read them aloud and critique.

These are a great way to learn what works and what doesn't. This time around there wasn't nearly enough time to get to all the pages. In 30 minutes they read only about six first pages, which in my opinion wasn't enough. Hey, we writers thrive on hearing professional opinions of our work, and although I submitted mine, I wasn't among the lucky ones to hear feedback.

But I'll share with you some notes on the pages that did receive feedback:

* The MC's name (main character) should have no cultural baggage--that's not to say you shouldn't use ethnic names or such, but that if a name brings a certain demographic to mind, be wary of how the image of your MC is portrayed to the reader.

* As always, less is more

* Give readers a chance to learn a little something about the MC ....  Make them care. In every first page the facilitators  read, this was mentioned. The action started too soon and neither the editor or novelist cared anything about who it was happening to. I think this is the biggest mistake writers make in their first pages. I've been guilty of it myself. We're told to start in the middle of the action, but we absolutely have to give a line or two that introduces the MC--a thought, an emotion, a quirk.

* Don't raise the stakes so fast ... ties in with above. If the reader doesn't care about the MC, why would they care about what's at stake? This is a big one I learned from the Plot Whisperer and Save the Cat too. There's a difference between the inciting incident and the catalyst, and knowing what that is can mean the difference between relating to the MC's situation, and not.

* Keep a focus ... This is not the time to sprinkle in back story or elaborate description. That will come later. Our first page should be about an MC and their immediate goal.

* Paint the scene.... Meaning, be artful about it. Anyone can relay details, but we're writers, our jobs are to be creative about it and make it vivid.

* Know where the MC is .... Meaning, when our scenes open up, we need a line or two to ground the reader and let them know where the MC is. A school? A spacecraft? A honkie-tonk bar?

* Simplify

BTW Christmas in July is happening over at Ruth Lauren Steven's blog. If you have a story ready, check it out. Today only for entries!

I've added a Query Project page to my sidebar so you can follow along my query journey. It's minimal at this point since I'm still revising here and there, but I'll do a post soon to introduce the project, and possibly a vlog. Hmmm, we'll see about that .... lol

How about you? Any first page tips to share? Have a great week!

29 comments:

Shelly said...

Excellent post! Thank you for sharing.

Hugs,
Shelly

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Good tips. (And Save the Cat is my favorite book on writing.) Not guilty of dumping the main character into action too soon but I do need to work on painting the scene better.

Hart Johnson said...

It's funny, because it is so opposite of what they SEEM to say, isn't it? You have to hook the readers right off... first paragraph even... doesn't that SOUND like you need to start with action? I can see, though, how letting the reader know your MC a bit is critical. Good advice.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Great tips! Especially the part about not hitting us with too much action before we care about the main character. I think VOICE is the biggest key to bridging character and action on the first page.

A big pet peeve of mine is introducing the love interest on the first page. I prefer a build-up to that meeting. But I know not everybody agrees with me.

Sharon Souter said...

Great post - I really enjoyed reading your tips from the feedback that was given. What a pity your work wasn't included - you kind of think they should be able to do more in something like this although I suppose much of what is highlighted is repetition. Thanks for sharing this.

Barbara Watson said...

Lots of great stuff here to ponder...

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Although I have never written a novel or story....only poetry books
I should imagine the first hurdle would be the first line of the first chapter.

Most enjoyable post and a big thank you for your comforting comment.

Yvonne.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I'd never considered that the action could start TOO soon, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for sharing these tips.

Johanna Garth said...

Sounds so simple and yet...such a difficult task. Isn't it Mark Twain who said if it's easy to read it was hard to write, or something like that?

Jay Noel said...

I labor over that first page...so this is great stuff.

cleemckenzie said...

Glad you focused on the first pages. They are the darnest critters to nail. So much to do and so many ways to do it. All it takes is skill and cunning and an eraser . . . delete key. I overwrite those pages, then go back and take out all that the reader could care less about, but that I needed to get started.

Great points that you picked up from the conference.

Rachel said...

Thanks for sharing. I always enjoying reading advice learned from conferences.

Old Kitty said...

Thanks for these tips - they are so helpful - "less is more", "keep it simple"! Wonderful! take care
x

Roger Lawrence said...

Great tips which are so obvious but easy to forget. I'll print this out and keep it handy.

DL Hammons said...

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thank you!

:)

Lexa Cain said...

I agree with the advice completely. I've tried very hard to do all those things in my first page, but in a recent contest, an agent told me to cut all the description and character introduction (there wasn't much, believe me) and get right to the action. She told me to submit to her if I made the changes. I didn't, and I won't. 'Nuff said.

Suzi said...

Great information.

That would make me nervous, having my first page read aloud like that, but I wouldn't pass up the opportunity if I had the chance.

T C Mckee said...

Oh, you are so right. I've had a really hard time trying to find that balance between the action and getting to know enough about the MC. It's tough. I think I've re-written my first chapter ten times and even deleted it once. It's got to work out eventually. :)

fOIS In The City said...

Another great post, PK. I might find the business of "ethnic" a bit off the grid. What can one "expect" to find in the Godfather by a man named Mario Puzzo? Or is a cozy mystery that uses an Italian restaurant on the Jersey Shore not going to play well because ... well because all the names might be Italian?? Both sold and did well.

I agree with your another comment ... make it exciting, grab the reader, toss them into the brink immediately ...but don't forget to give them time to get into the MC ... who shouldn't be obviously ethnic or obviously the killer or the person in danger of being killed???

Just having some fun. Experts make me nuts after all :)

Leslie S. Rose said...

I entered pages in a "first pages" because my writing partner told me there was a one in a million chance they'd pick mine. Yeah, they picked mine first. Luckily it passed muster. These are fab tips to remember.

Tanya Reimer said...

Wonderful tips. Thanks for sharing your experience, it sounds very rewarding.

Medeia Sharif said...

First page critiques are always interesting. I hope your first page gets picked at another time. Thanks for sharing these tips.

LTM said...

Oh, these are such great reminders! Thanks, PK! I'm looking at my own first pages right now, and I need to remember these two in particular: Paint the scene and Keep a focus. Good stuff!

I did enjoy that part of our SCBWI conference. It's fascinating to look at how I react to things and how editors react. They're similar, but it's good to be reminded. :D <3

Cally Jackson said...

Some awesomely useful tips here. I've definitely read books that throw you straight into the action before you even know who the MC is. It can be quite disorienting. Note to self: don't do that.

nutschell said...

These are great tips! Thanks for sharing them with us:)
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

William Kendall said...

Great tips!

I've broken some rules, having had not introduced my main characters until the fourth chapter...

Deana said...

I love first pages at conferences. They make me totally nervous, but they are so helpful!
Also, I saw you got an honorable mention on the x-mas in July contest and I think it is worth congratulating you on! Out of all those people, yours was in the running and I think that's awesome:)

Victoria Lindstrom said...

Thanks for sharing the great tips you received at the SCBWI conference. You have a great week too, PK.

Donna Yates said...

I really liked these guidelines. It is so important, that first chapter, and how we introduce our main character.