The writing conference I went to last weekend was informative and inspiring. I went to a ton of sessions on writing and publishing. Some of my favourite sessions, were the Live Action Slushes. As you can see by that link, I wrote about them earlier this year.

The importance of first pages is sticking in my head. Today, I started reading Saving Montgomery Sole and, oh goodness, that first page. IT. IS. AMAZING. It sets the scene. It sets the tone. It promises a quirky read. It introduces a strong, smart, witty, snarky character. In less than 20 lines, it hints at the main conflict and some subplots, introduces the protagonist, and creates a rebellious mood. It’s perfect.

I’m writing about first pages and live action slushes again today.

Why?

Because I’ve now been a participant and not just an observer. I’ve learned some new things. I want to share them with you, and hope that these ideas will make our writing (and our reading), even better.

Submitting your writing is terrifying.

We’ve all known this for a long time. At least, I have. I mean, sharing your creative baby, whether it is a piece of fiction, a song, a dance, a painting, it’s all completely and utterly nerve-wracking. What if people don’t like it? What if this thing you’ve been slaving over isn’t actually any good at all? What if the experts look at you like you’ve sprouted horns and floppy, fuzzy ears? I’ve only partially understood this until now.

In the past, nearly every time I’ve shared a piece of writing, it’s been non-fiction, business writing or essay writing, and has been in small groups or even one-on-one, and I’ve been the only writer. But this past weekend, I shared a page of my fiction with a room of nearing 80 people! AND – a whole host of those were published authors. AND – the purpose was for honest critique.

Guys, the writers who submit over and over again deserve our respect. They are doing something just as difficult as actually writing: sharing their writing to people with a critical eye.

Sometimes what you think is the first page of your novel is actually the first page of Chapter Two.

So… my page got read in the slush. My hands were shaking. One the plus side, the reader got all the way through my page. Woot! On the more difficult to swallow side, the panel didn’t love my page. They had some serious issues with it. Mostly, I hadn’t provided any worldbuilding information (tune in next month for more on the worldbuilding workshop I went to!). Because of this, the readers were lost. They had no orientation of where this story was taking place. Is it a contemporary story? Is it historical? Is it set in a futuristic world? Is it even on earth or is it somewhere else? I hadn’t given them any of that information. And because they didn’t have that, the dialogue didn’t make any sense.

Context is important. Especially on your first page.

I realized, while the panelists were discussing, that while starting my novel with a girl in a cell is intriguing, it’s not the best place to start the story. I spent so much time creating the setting of that cell that I forgot to provide those contextual details of the world. And, I even skipped my inciting incident, jumped ahead, and started the story after it. I don’t think I would have realized this for a long time if I hadn’t shared my page in the slush. So, when this novel gets finished and sees the light of day, you’ll notice that the first chapter starts very differently from what I originally thought.

Focusing on the first page too early stops you from getting the words written.

Last August, after attending this conference and seeing my first live action slushes, I started working on a story about a young teenage girl who discovers her grandmother had some secrets, and that those secrets are going to change her world in crazy ways. I’ll be honest, even now, a full 12 months later, I have no idea where that story is going. I have a premise, but I have no story arc. What I do have, is a first page that I spent hours crafting and re-crafting. By January, I loved it. It was a great first page.

Then I dug it out to print off for this year’s life action slush.

And I hated it.

It’s missing a lot of the key things you need in a first page. It’s full of unnecessary information. It’s even a little cliche.

I spent so much time working on that one page, that I never progressed further in the story.

The all-important first page isn’t something comes first. It comes after all the other pages are written.

So, my lesson this year, is to let the importance of the first page dwell in the back of my brain, notice awesome first pages like Saving Montgomery Sole, and just write.

I have three novels started that I want to develop into real things. The first, surprisingly, is not mentioned in this article. The other two, mentioned above, are going to have to sit and wait while I draft the first one. And draft it I will. I’ve been inspired, encouraged, and challenged. I’m committing to my writing this year. Are you?

 

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  1. Thanks for this post. Lots of great points to keep in mind! I’m working on a project and have been trying to decide if what I think of as the “first chapter” is working or not. I’ve been debating on doing something different and cutting it, but your post reminded me that I might just need to move it to the second chapter or change the first page or two. Glad you had fun at the conference!

    • Thanks for reading! I’m so glad I’ve been helpful. Yeah, my big takeaway from the conference was that yes, these details are important but the first step is actually get a draft down so I can then look for how to incorporate these details.

  2. Interesting. I’ve heard it said that a far more common problem is that writers’ first chapters are boring and unnecessary – giving background information that nobody gives a rip about, so skip the beginning, start your story with the second chapter. You’re saying you had the opposite problem. I guess it’s all about striking a balance.

    • Oh, those are definitely common problems with first pages. Which I was trying to avoid. But what I realized about my page was that I left ALL of that info out. Like you said, it’s about finding that balance between enough info that the reader cares and has context, but not too much info so the action is left out. Action with context is better than all action or all context.

  3. This is awesome. I love reading your posts about what you’re learning about writing because I’m sure it’s going to come in so handy when I do actually start writing! To be honest, I’ve never considered how important the first page is but that’s because I have never held too much criticism before (though I did just start reading an ebook where the first page is.. lacking..).
    I wish you all the best with your writing! Are you going to do CampNaNo again? 😀

    • Thank you, Katelynn! I am trying to be helpful. And by writing out what I’m learning I’m trying to remember it. It’s amazing how often you don’t notice a first page. Usually I notice if it is amazing or terrible, but there are lots in the middle area too.

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