First Page Critiquing

Last week I talked about great first pages, why they are important and gave some examples of my favorite first pages. Now, I think it's time for you all to practice with your first pages. Why? Because next week I'm going to host a first page contest! For simplicity's sake, we're going to call the first 250 words of a work the "first page."

Here's what we're going to do this week:

  • In the comments field, post your first page. 
  • Read others and offer feedback. As always, feedback should contain both positive and negative comments and should always be unfailingly polite. This is not a forum to boost your own ego by knocking others down. We've never had the slightest problems in the past, so I don't expect any now. 

 We'll do this for one week, so start posting now, and get your first page ready for next week's contest!


First Page Wonders

There is nothing like starting a manuscript (or a book) and getting hooked on the first page (or first few pages). Sure, the whole rest of the manuscript better live up to the beginning but there's nothing more exciting than being drawn in immediately.

Fortunately, there are tons of ways for this to happen:

  • Dynamic characters - I don't mean that they do something on the first page. They can, but they can also just be fascinating people, and be showing just how fascinating they are on that first page.
  • Unexpected plot twist - This is hard to do in only a page, but I've seen it done. One of my favorite books, The Amulet of Samarkand, does exactly this.
  • Strong voice - Obviously the voice of your work always matters, but it really makes a difference in that very beginning when you are trying to get someone hooked.
  • A really great idea - If you're world is truly unique or your book has some sort of really fantastic conceit, why not try to work it into the very beginning? (Unless of course it later acts as a surprise twist.)
  • In medias res - Ah, high school English terms. However, starting in the middle of things can be exciting, and it can be a great way to get the story started.
These are all things that can get my heart racing when I start a manuscript. Unfortunately, most of the time the work I see has a slow start. Especially with newer authors, there is a tendency to write a bit to get to know the characters and world of the story with the action and actual book not starting for pages or even chapters into the manuscript. This is absolutely a great way to start a first draft, but by the time I'm looking at a work, that sort of thing should have been edited out. That is of course where writing partners and critique groups come in.

So, before you put that manuscript in the mail (or in the email these days), glance back over your first few pages and see if they are the kind of thing that will really jump out and grab the editor/agent by the throat. Or at least gently catch their attention.

Books I Think Have Great First Few Pages:


A Year in Hades (and not with Percy Jackson or some other character)

I love 'em, but man, these
two are time consuming.
The other day I realized that it had been over a year since I last posted on this blog. A year. It has both felt like a minute, and at the same time decades longer.

It has not been a good year.

In June 2011, my two year old still couldn't really talk. He tested positive for hearing loss due to fluid in his ears which was corrected. He was expected to quickly start talking with a little speech therapy. He did not. Partly this was because his original speech therapist was an absolute ninny, but mostly it was because there was much more going on. In February he was finally diagnosed with dyspraxia (which no one debates) and PDD (which is still fairly up in the air with pretty much everyone including the doctor that diagnosed him with it). PDD or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (or as I prefer Physician Didn't Decide - I forgot where I saw that) means that you have a child who has autistic traits and falls onto the Autism spectrum, but the child does not fit into many of the other specific Autism diagnoses (like Asperger's or classic Autism). If you're curious to see some of what I've been going through, you can see my blog on it: Parenting is Overrated. I think the title says it all.

With the diagnosis has come special schools, lots (and lots and lots) of therapies and new diets. This also coincided with my husband going back to work, and my having to maintain a certain number of hours at the bookstore every week in order to keep our insurance. It was a stressful year. It was time consuming, and it meant the last thing I wanted to do was blog about query letters or book proposals that I didn't have the energy to read in the first place.

But the year has not been entirely in vain. I managed to finish the new Buried Editor website with all sorts of great information like tips and advice.  I've also worked on the Facebook page, and I've been developing exclusive content for it. As one of those exclusive things, I started developing Writing Sprints -- focused writing prompts designed to help with specific parts of your projects. I didn't think I'd come up with many, but to my surprise, I thought of 51. I'm going to put one up a month on the Facebook Page where people can post what they write based on the prompt and get feedback. If you wait just a little over 4 years, you can get all of them off the site, but if you want all of them now, get the little ebook (or in a few weeks the little print book). I'm going to be giving away some copies next month.

I'm not going to make any promises that the blog is back up and running although I'm going to do my best. However, as I've now learned, life can get in the way in a major manner. I think everything is back under control. I think my son's progress is on track. But I only think.