The Perfect First Page

This post originally appeared at Spellbound Scribes.

As I once more begin the arduous process of drafting a new manuscript, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the mechanics and architecture of story-telling. Of course there’s no right way to tell a story, but there are certain elements that must be in place for a story to be effective. And–if we’re starting at the beginning–the first thing we have to think about is, well, the beginning.

No pictures???

It’s no secret in the publishing industry that the beginning of a manuscript is of the utmost importance. To agents, to editors, and to potential readers alike. The first 250 words…the first page…the first chapter. The opening of a book is what introduces your work to your reader, and, if all goes well, draws them in and makes them keep reading. But what exactly is supposed to be going on in this crucial stage, and how do we as writers make that happen? While there’s no perfect way to do it, here are some of the things I think are absolutely necessary to nailing the perfect first page.

1. Start with action. Okay, this needs a little clarification. By action I don’t necessarily mean a sword fight or a horse race. By action, I mean something needs to be in the process of happening. The fancy literary term is in media res, or in the middle of things. Something is being revealed. Something is going terribly wrong. Someone is in trouble. There must be a sense that something is happening, and will continue to happen.

Another way of putting this: don’t lead with extensive backstory or a detailed explanation of who and where and why. These things are important, but a paragraph of exposition on your first page may just kill your reader’s desire to continue past that first page. Lead with action; the rest will follow.

Who? Get it?

2. Introduce your main character. Have you ever read a book that began with something happening to someone, and then it turned out that character was not, in fact, the protagonist of the story? I have, and I always feel a little cheated. Your readers are going to assume that the first person they meet is your main character. So let them meet him or her. And remember, first impressions matter.

Meeting your protagonist is the first point of connection for your reader. Whatever assumptions they make right off the bat might just stick with that throughout the story. So make that first impression count, and give them a sense of who your character is and what motivates them.

Me, pretty much every day.

3. Show us your world. When they open that first page, readers are latching onto any and every detail that will give them a sense of setting and place. What do the characters look like? What are the surroundings? How is it similar to what the reader is familiar with, and how is it different? Without details to bring the scene into focus, the reader might feel a little lost, as though the action is happening in a vacuum.

The challenge here is painting a picture…without going overboard with descriptions. Just like explanation and backstory, too much description on the first page may bore and alienate your reader. Give your reader a sense of place without resorting to a paint-by-number.

4. Give us a hint of voice. Your potential reader needs to know what makes your story different from all the others out there, and why they should read yours. That means that the style and voice that makes you unique and sets your book apart from others needs to be immediately apparent. Is your POV character always making cracks regardless of the situation? Do you rely on muscular active prose? Whatever makes you stand out, include it in the first page. Let your hard-won craft shine!

Sound hard? IT IS. Welcome to the big leagues! While there’s no perfect way to open a manuscript, keeping these points in mind will help you begin your amazing story in a way that will have readers clamoring for more!

What do you like to include on your first page? What do you like to see on other writer’s first pages? Leave your thoughts below!

Ten Things About My Writing

Inspired by the super cool Tara Sim, who posted ten quirky things about her writing process. As a creative who usually works totally isolated from the real world, it’s easy to forget that my weird processes are, well, weird. I can’t explain it, but each of these bizarre habits makes it possible for me to create the way I do!

1. I am a notebook hoarder. At any given time, I have anywhere from three to seven notebooks in general rotation, filled with notes and snippets and half-baked ideas and sketches and names. And while they vary significantly in size, the notebooks are almost all black.

2. I am very easily distracted. Finding a groove where nothing filters in from the outside world is a rare, yet much coveted happenstance. God forbid anybody calls me when it miraculously does happen.

3. In a similar vein, I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I’m working. I rely almost entirely on movie soundtracks, with a little bit of jazz and classical thrown in for variety. Bear McCreary is my current go-to composer.

4. I always have a word or phrase that I overuse in each project. In Blood King, that word was “judder.” Things were juddering all over the place. In Reverie, I had to edit out like eighteen instances of the word “slither.” Thank goodness I have beta readers to catch these things for me!

5. Sometimes when I’m stuck on a scene I pace around the living room acting out what the characters might potentially do or say next. But I only do it when I’m very, very alone.

6. I swear by a program called “Write or Die.” When you don’t write a certain number of words per minute, or you stop typing for a certain amount of time, the screen starts to flash bright red and blares awful music or irritating noises at you until you start typing again. It’s really great for bulking up on word count.

7. I’m a perfectionist. And I hate editing. So I always try to get things as close to right as possible in the first draft. The concept of a “vomit draft” is not something I ascribe to.

8. I call my inner critic “Yelling Bird,” after the character in Jeph Jacques’ webcomics. This is because Yelling Bird is loud, mean, and uses lots and lots of profanity. And is really hard to shut up.

9. I used to be a die-hard “pantser,” as in, I just wrote from the cuff with nothing more specific than a general plan for where a story was going to go. These days, I’m more of a plotter, although my outlines are pretty general to allow for lots of improvisation in the individual scenes.

10. Although writing can be hard, frustrating work, I truly love it and can’t imagine not doing it!

What are your writing quirks? Share yours in the comments section below!

Age of Blood Cover Reveal!

Age of Blood (Ash and Ruin #3) by Shauna Granger

Hope is a dangerous thing, but powerful. Hope keeps you going. Hope can keep you alive.

But hope can shatter your world.

Kat and Dylan have found a home, but the monsters are still out there. The pox and plague still ravage the world. They have hope of finding a vaccine, but their encampment isn’t equipped to develop it.

Dylan is still too weak from the pox to leave the encampment, so Kat must decide between staying by his side and protecting her last remaining family member as he leaves to find supplies. Separated for the first time since they came together, Kat and Dylan will have to fight their own battles to save what is left of their bloody world.

Kat will have to hold on to hope that she has anything left to save and someone to come home to.

If she can survive.

AGEOFBLOODAvailable 5/5/2015

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About the series:

World of Ash – book 1

WOA (1)

There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real.

The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative and find shelter from the pox that continues to devastate the world. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive.

That is, until she meets Dylan. Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair, has nowhere to go and no one to live for. He convinces Kat there can be safety in numbers, that they can watch out for each other. So the unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – if they can survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies.

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Time of Ruin – book 2

TORThe world has ended, and hope is the most dangerous thing left.

Battered and bruised after barely escaping San Francisco with their lives, Kat, Dylan, and Blue press north – desperate to reach the possibility of a new home.

But strange, monstrous ravens are tracking the remaining survivors, food is becoming scarce, gasoline is running short, and people are becoming suicidal, making survival almost impossible.

And the Pestas are growing bolder. Somehow, their numbers are growing.

The further north they go, the harder it becomes to ignore the signs that they’ve made a fatal mistake. Kat must face the impossible truth that there is no escape, there is no safe haven, and their worst nightmares don’t come close to their new reality.

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About the author:

6FTWnj-KLike so many other writers, Shauna grew up as an avid reader, but it was in high school that she realized she wanted to be a writer. She released the first installment of her Paranormal YA Series, The Elemental Series, Earth, on May 1, 2011 and has since released four sequels, with the series coming to an end with Spirit. In December of 2013 she released the first in her Paranormal Post-Apocalyptic trilogy (Ash And Ruin Trilogy), World of Ash. Be sure to also check out her newest series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels about a spunky witch just trying to pay her rent in West Hollywood. Shauna is currently hard at work on one too many projects, trying to organize the many voices in her head. It’s a writer thing.


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About the Cover Artist Stephanie Mooney:


I am a 25-year-old graphic designer, artist, and aspiring author currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a renaissance girl — a lover of all things creative and artistic. From the moment I learned to use my hands, I was writing stories about princesses and sketching ballerinas. I guess I never really stopped.

Most of my training has been informal, and many of my skills are self taught. In 2006-07, I spent a year interning at a church in Louisiana where I worked in their art and design department. In July 2007, they hired me as one of their designers. I worked there for three years, gaining experience in graphic design, advertising, set building, event planning, and product design. From there, I began my career in freelance design.

Many of my clients are indie authors looking for affordable cover designs. I love working with authors and getting excited about their stories with them. I’m still building my web portfolio, but I really enjoy designing and developing websites as well.


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