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THE FIRST PAGE

January 25, 2012

            I see over and over again in writer’s guides that the first page of your book is critical, as in the most important page. The first page is emphasized so much that there are actually first page contests and first page readings such as the one we sponsor at our annual writer’s conference here in Las Vegas. Just about every writer I’ve ever heard about that doles out advice has a page on how important the first page will be to your story. After that? Of course, then there is the second page then the third page and so on. Truth be told, there should be no bad pages within your book.

            I have to slap you all with a bit of a reality check now. What does this all really mean? When I hear that sort of talk, it gives me the idea that writing a book with such ideals is physically impossible. There is nobody on this planet that can maintain that kind of momentum for 250 to 1,000 pages without having a few pages that, taken by themselves, aren’t wowee-zowee knock-your-eyes-out pages. Come on now! Let’s get real!

            Maybe I’m completely wrong, but if I force myself to write something that I think others will be blown away with, but to me it sucks, I’m just whoring myself out and not following my muse. Maybe that’s the only real way to make money, but I feel my writing could come off sounding phony.

            I have to revert back to what keeps my interest, how I judge a book. I almost never judge a book by the first page. Well, I’ll take that back. I do judge the first page only by which POV the author uses. If it’s first person fiction, I toss it. If it’s present tense, I toss it. If the first page is one long paragraph, I toss it. Those are my criteria. As for whether the story grabs me right away? Not at all.

            A lot of the books I read start slow on the first page. The first scene might be a bang, but things usually don’t kick in until the second or maybe third page. I’m fine with that. I think a story should start by grabbing the reader with something that draws them into the story right away but it doesn’t necessarily have to be on the first page. Once I’ve determined the tenses and the basic writing style, the genre and the synopsis have usually sold me on the book anyway, if not the author. I am more than willing to give the book a few pages before I begin to wonder if I made a mistake.

            Despite the supposed need for stories to start with a bang, as 99% of them do, some of the best and most enjoyable books I’ve read started rather quiet. They built up over time. The opening scene was interesting, characters were introduced, some aspects of the plot were brought to bear, but there was nothing slam-bang. I had to wonder how those books ever got published like that, yet they did and in the end, the stories were pretty good.

            This is not a big argument for ignoring the advice to make your first page dull! I’m just saying don’t let all this talk intimidate you. The best advice, of course, is to start your story with a bang and make your first page count. Write your best, edit and make it better, and let it flow. If what comes out is subtle, don’t freak out. Go with it and see what happens. Don’t obsess over the first page being the whole book. It’s just the first page! Listen to your peers and keep working at it. You may surprise yourself.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2012 5:04 am

    Fred,

    I’m curious if anyone feels comfortable with their first and following pages. I relied on those who read my book to give me the answer. When the response was positive (I’ve been lucky), even with some bravos, I still felt insecure. I still look at the obituary column after I get up to see if my name is there. If it isn’t I get out of bed. I got that from George Burns at Harrah’s Club at Lake Tahoe. I laughed myself silly and had trouble playing my part behind him. Yes, I’m still insecure. It could be because I began writing at age 60 and had many holes (wholes?) in my education.

    • January 26, 2012 4:46 am

      Felix,

      I’m in the middle of your book and it’s wonderful! You have nothing to worry about. You’ve done a wonderful job so far on your bio. I don’t usually read bios but yours has kept my interest and your writing is top notch. You can pick yourself to death but you’ll never be satisfied, trust me!

      I don’t even remember your first page, but you know what? I don’t care! It wasn’t what hooked me on your book anyway. See? That’s the way I am about all the books I read. Maybe I’m just an oddball, but as I said in my essay, I never judge a book by the first page, except for the POV, the tense, and whether the paragraphs are endless.

      A bio, by the way, HAS to be in first person and I don’t mind it there. It’s first person fiction where I draw the line!

      Thanks for writing!

      Fred

  2. January 29, 2012 6:10 pm

    Fred, I’ll go you one better and say that every SENTENCE should be the best that it can be. As you know, I’m old school. From the first page I need those 5 w’s answered. Who, Where, What, When and Why.

    Who – is telling the story (POV as you said)
    Where – Am I (another time, another planet)
    What – is happening
    When – Past, Present, Future
    Why – what is the situation (plot if you will) that will make me turn the page.

    Fill that criteria and I’ll ride a ways along with you.

    Donald Riggio – Author “Seven-Inch Vinyl: A Rock and Roll Novel

    • February 1, 2012 3:43 am

      Donald,

      All good points. Every sentence should be there for a reason. I’m not near as critical, but when I read a bit and start to drift, I know something is wrong. Or, when I read a bit and have no idea what I just read, that tells me the author has lost me.

      Thanks, you rock!

      Fred

      • February 1, 2012 3:44 am

        Annie,

        Don’t we all wish we could come up with that one gimmick that tips us over the edge. It’s that moment of magic that only happens to a few of us. Like winning the lotto, I guess.

        Thanks!

        Fred

  3. Ann Marquez permalink
    January 31, 2012 6:30 pm

    How about the best selling (non-fiction?) book: Everything Men Know About Women … 128 blank pages! Wish I could come up with a gimmick like this one. 🙂 Then I could afford to follow my muse and spend the time and money on writing the book I “really want to write.”

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