Focus on the First Five —a tale of seduction

From 3-30 July 2017, I’ll be co-teaching this course with book editor extraordinaire, Robb Grindstaff through Romance Writers of Australia. Our Focus on the First Five pages course is useful for any genre, but do read on to find out more about our “seductive” writing course…

Book here: Focus on the First Five

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If you’re like me, before committing to a book, you’ll open it and read the first page in a store, or download the free excerpt of an ebook, before buying it. That’s also what an agent or publisher does with your manuscript. There’s massive pressure on your first few pages because their job is to hook your readers (be that agents, publishers or eventual everyday readers) and convince them to commit to the rest of your story. A reader will not wait for it to get good. You must wow them now, immediately and right away.

In romance terms, those first five pages must seduce the reader into a relationship.

On that topic, I thought I’d ask Robb what usually captures his attention as a reader and makes him want to keep reading. Robb?

Every reader is different, every writer is different, and different genres have different expectations for an opening. But there are a few key points you want your opening to accomplish to grab attention from the first sentence.

For some readers, it’s the story hook that grabs their attention. Between the front cover, the blurb on the back, and the first sentence, first paragraph, opening pages, does the writer catch your attention with, “What is going to happen with this set of circumstances?” Does the writer know exactly where and how to start the story?

For others, it’s the character that grabs the attention right off the mark. Is this an interesting, compelling character? What’s going to happen to her?

Then there’s that almost indefinable, and perhaps unteachable, quality: voice. Does the voice of the opening pages pull the reader in? This may be the most difficult but most important aspect of the opening. This is what I need in a book before I buy. I can’t even say I look for it. It’s either there or it’s not.

Writers who can make all that happen right from the start show the reader they are in command of their art and craft, and have created something worth continuing the journey.

A brilliant first sentence will lead to the second sentence and the third, so a writer can craft an excellent first sentence and still lose the reader in the first few pages. But if you grab and hold their attention for the first five pages, and you’ve hooked them into the character and story question, you’re off to a great start.

Thanks, Robb. I agree with all of that. It’s prompted me to share a story of how the first page of a book once seduce me. I’m a busy woman (two kids, two jobs, one husband, writing, the occasional yoga class to mitigate all the writing-related sitting) and I have limited reading time. So when I invest my time in a book, I want to know I’m settling in for the kind of read I like—crime, chic-lit or romance (in that order!). I do not do genres like fantasy, horror or sci-fi. I just don’t like them and I’m not prepared to waste my precious reading time on them.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I was at a writing workshop where the presenter used the first page of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes as an example (of what I don’t recall). This book, as some of you may know, is a time-travelling, fantasy, and horror genre mash-up. Not my thing at all. Yet that first page grabbed me. The voice, the atmosphere, the character and the hook all seduced me in one tiny page and I had to go and buy the damned thing. It is now one of my all-time favourite novels and I’ve read everything that the brilliant, freaky Lauren Beukes has written. I also pester her regularly on Facebook for more. That’s the power of a fantastic first page, people!

So when Robb and I sat down to write this course, we asked ourselves what do our favourite books accomplish in those first few pages, and how can we teach other writers to replicate that? We think we’ve answered this question because it really all comes down to a few fundamental craft basics, followed up by —you guessed it— editing.

We can’t wait to share our lesson and critiquing with you so that one day, your manuscript may also seduce that elusive reader.

 

 

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