Last week, I outlined the notes on VOICE from the speakers at the SCBWI Florida summer conference. The other thing they spoke a lot about was…
They spent a lot of time on first page critiques, reading each page aloud and commenting on what intrigued them, what needed work, which areas were confusing, and lines or phrases that appealed to them. Because the dreaded first page deprives all of us of sleep from time to time, here, in no particular order, are the tidbits I gleaned:
- Nothing should be explained. Think of your characters as puppets whose strings you’re pulling. Erase the strings so the reader can’t see them.
- Make sure that your characters are reacting to the scene/events, as opposed to the events being reported by you, the author
- As interesting as settings are, people aren’t drawn to them. They’re drawn to characters. So don’t let the setting overpower them or the overall story
- If you’ve got a great line or phrase somewhere on the first page, juggle the content so that line comes last on the page.
- Description: if the reader will assume it, don’t describe it. This typically applies to hair color, furniture arrangement, etc. If you have to describe physical appearances, make them short and sweet–5 or six words, half a sentence.
- In historical fiction/dystopian/fantasy: authors feel the need to anchor the reader in the unfamiliar world, but remember that descriptions on the first page have to be prioritized. Every detail on the first page should also tell about the character. Quality of writing is important, but so is quality of information.
- Any physical activity that your character does, go and do yourself. Ride a helicopter, shoot a slingshot, walk in stilettos. Make sure your writing is authentic.
- Physically walk through your scene. If it comes off clumsy in your living room, it will be even clumsier on the page.
- Keep in mind the page visual. White space is inviting, long narrative blocks are daunting. Vary your sentence structure with this in mind.
I’m always fascinated to hear knowledgeable people read and discuss first pages because they’re able to pick out what’s wrong right off. Most of us still on the journey to publication (and a lot who’ve already reached that goal) still have the blinders on and can’t always see what’s wrong, so I find this information helpful. Maybe with these tips, we’ll all be one or two steps closer to getting that all-important first page right!