That Vital First Page

You’ve written an amazing novel and are hoping to snag the interest of an agent or publisher, and of course you want to capture the interest of future readers. If you’ve ever gone to a writing conference and offered your manuscript to an agent for perusal, you’ll know that they only look at the first page—or part of it—to determine whether or not they want to read more. The first page can make or break you.

The first sentence should grab the reader’s attention and compel them to move on to the second sentence and more.

At a writing conference I attended, agents listed some of the most common mistakes writers make that are like dismissal flags to the agent. Here are some openings to be avoided:

  • “It was a dark and stormy night,” and any other clichéd openings
  • waking up to the alarm clock ringing
  • telling about a dream and then waking up
  • telephone ringing
  • describing a scene passing by while driving a car
  • looking into the mirror to give a description of the character.

In the first few lines you should already have introduced your main character, and have established the point of view. Don’t be tempted to introduce other characters unless they are necessary to the first scene. Readers need to know whom the story is about, but they don’t want to be confused by being introduced to the whole cast in the first five minutes.

Start your story in the middle of some action. You can work forward from there, providing backstory later on. Speaking of backstory, too much, too soon is not a good thing. Nuggets of information can be dropped into the story in bits and pieces later on, but not necessarily on the first page.

As you give the reader glimpses of the setting, you can be establishing the tone of the story. From the choice of language and how you use it, the reader will soon have a sense of time and place. You may convey this by the conservative language of the 1950s, the more archaeic language of the Middle Ages, the modern rap style of big-city youth, or whatever style suits your setting.

Your main character’s language, thoughts, or action should alert the reader to his short-term goal and hint at his long-term mission. You will want to establish the voice of the story. If you choose to use dialogue to give the reader a glimpse into the character’s personality type, make every word count. Make it meaningful. Is the voice serious, sombre narration, or is it more light-hearted? Does your character have an accent that hints at his background and social standing?

This is the page where you cleverly weave in bits of information necessary to the development of the story. Does your character have some heroic quality that the reader can anticipate coming into play? Is he vulnerable in some way? Perhaps our hero will experience some difficulties as he pursues his goal.

The first page is a good place to drop a hint of something mysterious that will come up again in future chapters. Then at the end of the first chapter this mystery may come into play when you craft a good hook for the ending of your first chapter.

With all of these elements in place, readers will be hard pressed not to turn the page and continue reading, and that is the goal of a writer.

I invite you to read the first page of any of my novels using the Amazon “Look Inside” feature, and see if you would like to read more.

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website

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One More!

The writing contest produced some very good entries. It was hard to choose only three. I ended up choosing four, and still I had to add a fifth – Joanna Gawn –  for an honourable mention. This does not mean hers was the fifth best. It’s just that I had to make the cut somewhere.

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I liked Joanna’s story very much. Here it is. Congratulations Joanna.

The buildings seem smaller than when I left thirteen years ago. Yet the land runs forever. I’d forgotten. The city does that to you, narrows your vision, restricts your focus to the height of things, not the breadth.

Hannah Mallory and I played on that ridge every time Dad and I visited. Hannah and I were innocents back then, drinking fresh lemonade in the shade of the trees while the sun baked the earth a pale gold.

I think of my town car back in the city, tucked into its pristine garage. The Mallorys had an old Buick; Dad kept it running so Hannah’s mother could get to town for groceries.

What would Hannah say if she saw my grand house? The gilt-edged invitations on the mantelpiece? My wife, with her perfect hair and immaculate make-up? The kids with their private school uniforms? Their expensive toys?

My life is perfect, I’m told. Sophisticated. Sparkling.

This wide landscape, with its broken buildings and its handshake of dust, welcomes me back quietly, without fanfare. It cracks open my heart, the memories seeping in slowly like the trickle of water in the hidden creek. A different kind of sparkle, of droplets capturing glints of sunlight.

Air can be so pure; I’d forgotten that, too.

There is peace here, yet I’m heavy with regret. Will she hear my goodbye?

The trees murmur Hush now, this is the way of things. Breath always ends in death.

I make my way to the house, still unsure what to say. Hannah, my first love, I’m sorry I left you? Hannah, my only love, please don’t die? Hannah, my heart’s hope, I wish you were mine?

I hurry. I have to be there with her before she, too, is dust upon the landscape of our childhood.

*****

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Find out more about Joanna Gawn here:

website: http://www.lazuli-portals.com/

blog: http://lazuliportalswriting.wordpress.com/

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lazuliportalstrilogy

twitter: https://twitter.com/LazuliPortals

 

The Fourth Winner

Four authors have been chosen as winners in the writing contest. They may choose a free download of the ebook of one of my four novels from smashwords.com. I will print their stories on this blog in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

The story was to go with the photo below.

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Here is the fourth one. Congratulations to Pam Wight.

Returning

Returning was not a choice.

Returning wasn’t a dream or a wish.

Returning was the only way to escape.

She hitchhiked from her cottage overlooking the sandy dunes and indigo waves of the Atlantic Ocean to her old home, to the home she hated with a passion and left with no intention – ever – of returning.

Miranda accepted rides from Cape Cod to Pittsburgh (a blue-haired woman with her shaggy dog on the way to visit grandchildren), from Pittsburgh to Chicago (a gray-haired bearded trucker who kept calling her “dearie”) and then from Chicago to Tripp, South Dakota.

“What a trip!” the long-haired, hippie-like 40-something kept saying to her as they drove in his Beemer. She wanted to ask him who he was, how he could afford such a fine car, but she knew better than to begin a conversation.

A conversation could lead to questions about her own life.

She couldn’t afford to give any hints of who she had been, what she’d become, and why she needed to hide. The less said…the better.

“Where you off to?” the hippie man had asked when he stopped on the side of the busy Chicago street. His light blue eyes were kind, his soft Southern drawl comforting, his rumpled clothes matched her jeans and cotton shirt.

“South Dakota,” she answered, her voice shaking despite her desire to seem confident.

“Exactly where I’m going!” he said as he leaned from the driver’s seat and opened the passenger door. The car smelled clean and new. The car smelled like success and happiness. The car smelled safe.

So Miranda hopped in and deflected questions.

“I’m George,” he began, extending a soft hand and a pause, waiting for her introduction.

“I’m returning,” she offered as she closed her eyes and envisioned her dad’s crumbling old farm, dilapidated and distressed.

Just like her.

*****

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Pamela S. Wight is the author of two romantic suspense novels: The Right Wrong Man and Twin Desires (found in Amazon in softback or as e-book). She’s working on her third novel: As Lovely as a Lie. Pamela’s children’s illustrated book, Birds of Paradise, is scheduled for an April 2017 publication. Check out her ‘flashes of life’ weekly blog atwww.roughwighting.net.

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Writing Contest – Four Winners – Part 3

Four authors have been chosen as winners in the writing contest. They may choose a free download of the e-book of one of my four novels from smashwords.com. I will print their stories on this blog  in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

The story was to go with the photo below.

025aHere is the third story Congratulations to Angela Noel.

I heard my mother’s voice––urgent, as if the pigs had escaped again. The saddle felt heavy in my hands, but the smell of it, dirt and sweat and old leather, always calmed me. I wondered if I could ignore her, pretend the wind had carried her voice away, and let my feet continue on their path to the pasture where Edmond waited for me. I only had an hour or less to ride, only an hour before he’d return and life would change again.

I heard Edmond nicker a greeting. The clop of hooves against the dry, soft dirt sounded like a heartbeat. I took four more steps and sighed as my mother’s voice became shrill.

“Sonja! You get in here now! Right now!” I didn’t turn around, but I knew she was standing there, her housedress billowing behind her, sensible shoes planted like roots in the ground, hand shielding her eyes from the sun.

“Sonja . . . please.”

It was the please that stopped me. I turned towards her, saddle still heavy on my shoulder. The initials on the pommel, visible from the corner of my eye–ORJ–accused me.

“What, Mama?” I sighed, tipping my hat from my brow with my left thumb, before shifting the heavy weight from my right shoulder to the ground.

“What is it?”

She waited for me, still squinting into the sun.

“Do you . . . do you think he’ll like it?” She fingered the belt on her dress. I noticed it was new, not the same one she’d been wearing this morning for chores. This one was cornflower blue, little sprays of daisies across the sleeves.

I opened my mouth, closed it again, aware of the dirt slashes across my arms and cheeks. “Yes, ma’am. He’ll like it just fine.”

Her eyes, a welling of liquid, ready to overflow, looked away. She reached one hand towards me. “Best get ready. Your brother’ll be here soon. Ain’t every day we have a homecoming.”

I sighed. Owen, home again.

*****

angela-noel

Angela Noel lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In between fiction projects, she posts inspiring stories about interesting ideas and compelling people on the You are Awesome blog. She enjoys yoga—except crow pose—and loves books, humans, wine, and chocolate (but not necessarily in that order).  Connect with her on Twitter at @angiewrite or subscribe to her blog for a new post each week.

Writing Contest – Four Winners – Part 1

It was very difficult deciding on the three best short stories to go with the photo below.

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So, four authors have been chosen as winners in the writing contest. They may choose a free download of the e-book of one of my four novels from smashwords.com. I will print their stories on this blog  in alphabetical order by the author’s last name .

Here is the first one. Congratulations to Barbara Breese, from Harvard, Massachusetts.

El Paraiso

“Hey Mom? What’s this?” my daughter Katie calls to me from the attic. She thumps down the attic stairs, then appears in her bedroom doorway trailing a collection of backpacks and duffel bags.  She has something in her mouth that she drops at my feet like a puppy.

I am helping Katie pack for college, but I pause and pick up the small white object.  It’s an old photo.

“What is that weird place?”  Katie asks.

“El Paraiso.”  I haven’t seen it in years, but I think about it every day.

“No way!”  She’s worldly-wise, my daughter.  “It doesn’t look like paradise.  Looks more like a dump!  Does anyone actually live there?”

I sit on Katie’s bed. This photo tells the end of the story, but I remember the beginning.  I remember the ranch when it was alive. This was the view from my bunkhouse window. The jersey cows lived in that barn; they were my favorites, sweet-natured and gentle. They liked having their noses rubbed. That smaller building was the canteen; we had breakfast there every day, and lunch, too, unless we sat under the tree. That tree hadn’t always been twisted, gray and dead. I never knew exactly what kind of tree it was but I had loved its cool, shady canopy.

“I did,” I tell Katie.  “I lived there.”

Katie lets the bags drop. “NO WAY!” She’s worldly-wise and articulate. She sits next to me, staring at the photo. I feel her breath on my cheek.  She smells like shampoo and lip gloss.  I ask where she found the photo.

“In one of the duffel bags,” she answers.   Katie looks at me, her eyes round with surprise, and I know that as I pack up Katie’s life, I must unpack my own.

 

Writing Contest Results

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I’m happy to say I had a good response to the writing contest. The challenge was to write up to 300 words to go with this photo.

Congratulations to all who sent in their stories.  It was hard to choose the winners and in the end I had to choose four stories instead of only three. I had help from an unbiased judge and after discussing the merits and critiquing of each entry, I went with that person’s choices.

I will be posting these stories in the next days, and will be making arrangements for those winners to claim their free e-book.

Thank you to all who sent their entries to the contest. It’s great practice for your writing and I enjoyed reading your stories. Please try again in another contest that I hope to hold soon.

The winners, in alphabetical order, are Barbara Breese, Angela Noel, and Pam Wight. Honourable mention goes to Joanna Gawn. You can read their stories on this blog over the next days.

In the short story I was looking for a beginning, middle, and end. A hook to get me interested in the beginning and a tidy wrap-up at the end was another thing I looked for. At the end, there might be a twist, but it had to be something that the reader could relate to – something that would help them imagine what probably happened next. If you put in a twist or surprise at the end and it comes out of the blue with nothing to relate it to, it won’t do the trick.

I like to see a clean manuscript but sometimes a typo can creep in so I wasn’t too judgmental about that, but I was critical about common grammar mistakes and correct word usage. For example, a writer should know the difference between it’s and its, and your and you’re, and know when to use each one. Run-on sentences don’t make me happy, even after allowing for poetic licence.

The stories I have chosen held my interest and they met the criteria I have outlined in the previous paragraph.

I hope you enjoy reading the stories of the winners.