Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Those Darn First Pages

Since there's no post here today, I thought I'd talk about my experiences with the first 3 pages of every story I write. An editor told me once that if she wasn't interested in a mss by page three she read no further. On my own blog I just did a bit about the synopsis and hints to writing it but I've been struggling with the first three pages since I began writing in the dark ages. I figure I've re-started the first three pages on my many manuscripts enough times that I could have completed at least 20 more novels - the long ones above 80,000 words. Maybe I exaggerate but it seems that way. My last attempt in a story I'm finishing got me to chapter 3 and fizzled. So I tried the opening again and again. What finally hit me was that I'd started with the wrong chapter. Tore up all those pages. Actually deleted them and began anew. Started with the heroine and after the funeral. Wonderful thing happened. In less than four weeks I had the entire thing written. Now it's a novella but the last one I wrote took me two months. Finding the right character to open with is important. I'm about to begin another but I've no choice of character to begin the story since it's the fifth in a series and told first person so I must start with the heroine. What other things are important for the first three pages. Starting point. In the middle of the action is the best beginning. Or there is a moment before the action begins. The point where the character is thinking everything is wonderful, then a paragraph later bang. Another good point is a moment after the triggering event has happened. The character is now faced with how do I get out of this disaster. So that's the starting point. During the writing of the story, one has to look at things like what kind of story is this going to be. The tone needs to point to romance, mystery, fantasy. There's nothing that sets a reader off that to discover the story they're reading isn't what those first few pages promised. The setting needs to be established in a few short sentences. There should be hints as to what the character wants and to why they want it. This doesn't need to be spelled out in page after page. Just little hints. One thing to avoid is the backstory. I've been critiquing manuscripts of other writers for years and what always stops me cold is a long explanation of what happened to the character from birth to the present. Later in the story these facts can be woven in. What i usually say is the backstory is what the writer needs to know but the reader doesn't need all the gritty details. Since I'm about to start and tear up my first few pages a dozen or more times, I'll say good-bye and get to work.