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The Promise of the First Page

The Promise of the First Page: That’s how Kate Messner and I opened a recent Creative Writing class this semester. Students use the time with us to begin writing novels, so we use mini-lessons designed to help them on their journeys as fledgling authors.

In one recent class, the two of us took turns reading just the first page of various novels, without showing the cover or reading the blurb on the back. The students discussed the promise the author makes with the page and made predictions about the book. What is the genre? Tone? Voice?

Most importantly… Does the first page make you want to continue reading?

Think of it this way: If you buy an expensive gift, do you just throw it in a burlap bag? If you are meeting your agent for the first time in a fancy NYC restaurant do you show up in overalls? If you are opening a new business do you leave a pile of trash out front and have dirty windows? Of course not. We wrap expensive presents in nice paper with a matching bow. We put on attractive clothes and check our teeth in the mirror before our important appointments. We polish, clean, and do a window display when we want our business to lure in customers.

We should do the same with our manuscripts. Dress it for success.

That first page is what many readers use to judge whether they will check the book out of the library or bring it to the register. My students look at the picture on the cover and read the blurb on the back when choosing novels. If it sounds like something they would enjoy, they read the first page. Then, they decide.

Get your first page and read it aloud. What does it promise readers? Does it entice them to continue? How did you use those few paragraphs to set the tone for the rest of book?

Your first page is the window dressing to your novel. Make sure your student reader pauses when they are taking a glance and want more. Then when they step into the world you created, make sure the rest of the novel is represented by the first impression.

(Look for a future post on one of novels that received a strong positive reaction from the students!)


Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
wordsrmylife
Mar. 3rd, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
What a great, simple way to keep it in focus. I'm going to add that to the sayings I have on 3x5 index cards over my desk. (Some of them are literally over the desk, because the ceiling is on a slope.)
marjorielight
Mar. 3rd, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
Thanks!
That's a grand idea with the index cards! What else do you have written on your cards? Care to dish?
philia_fan
Mar. 3rd, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
That's probably the best argument I've heard for polishing your opening. Lately I've grown very sick of the "you must hook your reader instantly!!!" pressure. For one thing, I keep reading books with great first-page hooks that later disappoint, which makes me grumpy. But I like the way you put it.
marjorielight
Mar. 3rd, 2010 09:01 pm (UTC)
Too True
I know what you mean about the hook mantra. After watching my students self-select books over the years, it is important. I agree with you though - polishing the rest of ms to match that great opening, is important, too! :-)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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