Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Festival of the Book- First Pages

You should know right away that my note-taking skills are quite inferior to Michelle's. But I'll give you the best review I can of Dancing With the Manuscripts- How to Hook an Editor on the First Page, sponsored by the Moseley Writers. Lucy Russell moderated. Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren, Deborah M. Prum, Fran Cannon Slayton, and Andy Straka offered feedback.
Here are the highlights:

  • Fuzzy beginnings are a don't. Beginnings with a vague sense of place fail to grab. There had better be a clear sense of place and time.
  • Don't switch temporal perspective. I don't mean POV or headhopping between various characters (well known mistakes). Jumping between the past and present isn't a good idea in the first page of your work. Relating the past, jumping the present, revisiting the past, and then jumping back to the present is awkward. More than that, however, it fails to anchor your reader in your story.
  • Don't open with tons of description. One story began with detailed description of an object. A paragraph's worth. We went quite a while before we met the character. Again, your job is to anchor the reader in your story and to your characters, not to an object.
  • Don't surprise your reader with unexpected details. A few stories started one way and then dropped in a jarring detail. One story began in a very homey way and then broke out the fairy dust. Another story's description hinted at century's old atmosphere and then showed us a baseball cap. The changes didn't create interest- they caused confusion.

There were other issues, but those dealt mainly with the mechanics of writing that you know. I think the comments reminded me most of goslings. You know how just-hatched goslings imprint on the first thing they see? Think of your readers as hatchlings ready to imprint. Your first pages need to imprint them on the right character, the right world, and the right conflict. Use clear language, and pick the right scene so that your goslings can make sense of the world you've dropped them into.



*Sorry about the wonky formatting, folks, I ran out of patience trying to fix it...

7 comments:

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Once again, thanks for taking the time to share this! I'm going next month so hope learn and to pay it forward.

Sarah said...

No problem, Terry! Can't wait to read what you glean from your trip.

Michelle said...

LOVE the gosling analogy. I'm going to try keeping that in mind. Thanks for the first pages synopsis!

Sue Hyams said...

Thanks for this. Just what I need. My beginning are always a bit rubbish!

Sarah said...

You're welcome, Sue. I found the panel so helpful.

Tess said...

I've done two of these four in past/early works. Ah, the blessing of perspective. Of course, at the time, I thought it *brilliant* :D

Amy Tate said...

This is great stuff! Thank you so much for sharing this. It sounds like quite a weekend.