Monday, November 14, 2011

Your First Five Pages--Pt. 1

What can you do to engross your reader?

Saturday morning, at our monthly RWA meeting, multi-published best-selling author Faith Hunter spoke on the first five pages of a manuscript and how they can make or break a sale. Firstly, I just want to say how lovely she is and fun and vibrant. So committed to her work, yet striving to make it enjoyable at all costs. Much to look up to there. We were truly blessed to have her as a speaker, and I so hope she comes back again.

But moving on to her lesson: The First Five Pages. I won't break it down word-for-word, but I would like to tab out a few important things to remember--things that really grabbed me and on which I plan to work ASAP--before you send those few requested, vital pages to an agent or editor. The way I've planned this, however, is to give you a crucial part of the process with each blog post. Why? Many reasons, the main being 1) I can't do anything without explanation and examples, and too many can lead to a long, long post. Which brings me to 2) I want you to really chew on each morsel. Think it over. Because we all want to be the best writers we can be, published or no, right? Good! Here we go:

1. You must have a good, grabbing, baiting opening/beginning.  Now, that was a lot of -ing's, but hear me out: When was the last time you read a book that took, oh, a good chapter or two to really set your heels into it? Bet we can all remember one from recent weeks/days. But what about those that, when you read those first few lines, the first opening paragraph or patch of dialogue, you thought, "Wow. I wanna do it just like that." Or something close to it. Uh huh. I'll wager a buck-fifty one just popped into that brilliant brain of yours.

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Those are the opening lines of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. From that small paragraph, what do we know? Whoever is speaking is likely... what? Poor? Female, perhaps? More than likely--she sleeps with her sister, after all, who apparently has nightmares. And the author provided us with the will to read on. How? That last sentence: This is the day of the reaping. What's the reaping? No clue. But I definitely want to find out.

Collins also delivers a simple, yet important example of what we all need to remember when starting a story: Today is the day of change. What do I mean by that? Your characters, the people you practically know as family now they've been in your head for so long, were going about their normal everyday lives. Washing dishes, paying bills, going to school/work, whatever. Until today. At the beginning of this story. This is the day of the reaping. Obviously, today is the day of change. This event should also prove pivotal later in the story.

Here's one more.

"Too old for this shit," muttered Craw, wincing at the pain in his dodgy knee with every other step. High time he retired. Long past high time. Sat on the porch behind his house with a pipe, smiling at the water as the sun sank down, a day's honest work behind him. Not that he had a house. But when he got one, it'd be a good one.

That is the first paragraph from Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes, and it's today's Kindle Daily Deal ($1.99--that's $23 off the normal price!). Unlike The Hunger Games, I haven't yet read this one, but from the several sentences which compose that opening bit of bait, I'd say this is a man, away from home--far away, even--who's perhaps waiting on an ambush of some sort. And he's done this many, many times, from the pain in his joints. Something also tells me he's also not gonna get that house anytime soon. I'll trust Mr. Abercrombie to fill in the pages to follow with battle and adventure, showing Crow's extensive cunning, bravery, and valor.

See how that works? Now, it's up to you, dear author, to tell us what happens next.

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Andrew Leon said...

I just can't get behind this idea of having to catch a reader in the first paragraph. It's really just wrong. It's an idea for pleasing the market place rather than pleasing the reader. Yes, it might get you an agent or a book deal, but it doesn't make your book better and may well weaken your story as you try to manipulate things to have a particular opening.

Alyssia said...

I probably should've said "solely if you're seeking traditional publication." But then again, I am a stickler for a good opening. Always been that way, even when I was much younger. If it takes too long to get into, I'm putting it down. Because for me, I want a strong, grabbing beginning. But that's just me. Thanks for the input! :)

Andrew Leon said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there shouldn't be a good opening. However, I can't get behind the current trend of sacrificing the exposition in order to get as far into the action as possible, and that's the push from agents and publishers these days.

Lynda R Young said...

You picked great examples. They've packed so much into those simple beginning sentences.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I've only recently discovered Faith Hunter. How exciting that you got to go to a workshop with her!

Okay, fangirl stuff aside, I do believe the opening has to catch the reader's attention, though I do feel just some good, solid pacing can help as long as one doesn't depend on it for too long before something happens.

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