I’ve read my fair share of writing tips and tricks over the years. Most of us writers have, I’d wager. We’re always on the lookout for that perfect formula for writing a bestseller. How do we get a reader’s attention, and keep it?
There is no shortage of articles related to opening pages of a story. Agents and publishers have listed out the items they want to see in the first page. An agent only needs a page or two to know if they should keep reading. That, I think, is what generates endless levels of frustration. I tell you now that it hangs over my head like a flock of vultures waiting for me to give up, so they can swoop down and rip me and my WIP apart.
It is a constant worry that my opening pages won’t be good enough. Have I done X, Y and Z, just like so-and-so said? Did I make sure to cover all the senses? Did I do too much? Did I establish The Who, What, and Where? Is my viewpoint…on point? Was that an info-dump? Did I not balance exposition and dialogue? White space? Am I trying too hard?
Did I really start this story with unattributed dialogue?
My head is swimming. After reading the do’s and don’t’s, I’ll just plop down in front of the computer and write a masterpiece. Right? Or, as usual, I’ll stare at the cursor, hands trembling, mind racing, doubt creeping, until I push the laptop away and mark down another day I didn’t write.
Who can blame me for being terrified? I know I’m not alone here. How can we allow ourselves to loosen up, to open the creative vault of our minds, when it’s full of red ink before we even start?
It’s a lot to take in, even when I’ve been down this road before. The opening pages are where we win or lose our audience. We want it to be the best we can make it, but if we allow ourselves to remain bottled up for fear of making one of those mistakes, we will never get anywhere at all.
That’s big picture for me. Write the story without fear. If I make a mistake, that’s okay. I’ll keep learning, but the fear has to be controlled.
It is good to know what agents and readers look for, and I am not saying you shouldn’t pay attention. Because, you should. What I am saying is don’t let it control your desire to write. Don’t let it crush the story that’s been singing in your imagination for days or years.
Write to the best of your ability, but write without fear. That is what I’ll do for my opening pages.
YOU HEARD ME, FEAR.
The question now – What do I want to do?
I’ve been thinking about my favorite openings to books and the approach I want to set. Some go for setting, some for plot, others dive into character.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll notice that I scrapped my original chapter one. I did this for a few reasons. One, it didn’t set the right tone. This story should be introduced as a bit of an adventure, and it didn’t have that vibe. Two, it was the wrong character to bring us into this world. The deeper I went into thinking about the story, the more I realized I already had a character that everything revolves around. I just need to back the timeline up a bit for it to work.
I want the first chapter to do a few things. I want it to establish my character viewpoint. I want to know who he is and why he has come across hard times. The setting should have a few strong moments because it is not a typical fantasy setting. I want it to have an ancient Greek feel, so I will want to throw in a few highlights that brings that to life. This chapter should also establish the initial conflict. What is going to drive the story forward that ends up gobbling up the other characters? I have two others that want the spotlight too!
This should be like teeing up a golf ball before crushing it with the driver. Set it up, then off we go, right into the action. It doesn’t need to be long. In fact, I’d like it to be a quick opening look into the story ahead, then jumps to our other characters that have no idea that they are about to get wrapped up in the adventure to come.
My task is set. I supposed I’ve delayed as much as possible. I know my story. I know what I want from my opening pages. Time to write.