You show up at a cool restaurant (this is a non-COVID19 world scenario) and the place is bumping and you are dressed in your favorite outfit. You’re pumped because you have a first date. The initial contact was respectful, thought out, and professional. Great signs.
But your date arrives. Clothes are a mess, frantic movements, cliche comments and awful pick-up lines. It’s…off-putting, to say the least. The first impression is automatically done in those first seconds and while the date could redeem themselves, there’s no guarantee.
Readers/agents/editors are the exact same way about the first page, first chapter, first introduction to your words. They don’t have time to invest in your words if the first impression isn’t stellar. There isn’t enough time to dive into stories that might get better. Learning this, and changing my game plan as a writer, changed everything. This mindset shifted how I start a story, how I revise it, and how I look for areas to make that first impression the best it can be.
Thinking of your first page as your first impression as a writer, (much like a job interview) there are basic things you know won’t work. Showing up late, not wearing professional clothes, or researching the job you’re applying for, it’s a sure sign that you aren’t ready or prepared for the role. It’s not always fair or right but it is something that happens.
Writing can be just like that, no matter how much passion or heart or energy goes into the project. Rejection is a part of the writing process and you are never going to make everyone happy, however, that first page and chapter can set up the reader, editor, agent, etc. to want to spend time with your words. That first impression is crucial.
So how can you make that first impression sparkle?
How can you make sure you’re prepared to convince them to keep reading? In a world of constant social media updates, or for me, who has a short attention span, the hook has to be DOMINANT.
You need to show your main character, give readers a reason to understand them, root for (or against!) them, to sink your hooks into the reader’s mind and make them need to know more. How can one do all of that though? That seems impossible.
It takes practice, time, revisions, critique partners, beta readers, and edits, BUT it can be done. Here are three things I always look for on the first page:
How to show GOALS:
Why is your character the way they are? What is their driving force? I spent a lot of time on the why. Why do certain things upset them? Annoy them? Why is it so important for MAIN CHARACTER to become a doctor? To solve a crime? To win the competition? Their goals are going to influence every decision, conversation, and relationship they have.
How to show TENSION:
You’ve stated their goal, their driving force. Now, what’s in their way? Are they out for revenge after someone wronged their family but they can’t find the person? Do they need a loan, but have no credit? Are they trying to get over a heartbreak but they get an invitation to their ex’s wedding? Are they enemies with their next door neighbor and they pulled yet another prank that makes them storm over there to yell? The tension can show a lot about your character AND ground the reader. Too often (also, @ing myself here) writers want to add in description and set the scene and those details bog down the action.
Showing the scene can be done through the use of dialogue, the body movements, the TENSION that pulls the reader in. When the neighbor storms over to bang on their door to yell at them, are they stomping on snow or kicking aside their freshly trimmed bush? Little details can be filtered in to set the physical scene.
How to show EMOTION:
I am OBSESSED with Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglish’s book the Emotion Thesaurus. It gives inspiration and internal and external cues for emotions that make a basic paragraph even more detailed and visceral.
There is such a difference between these two sentences.
Peter felt terrified watching the group of men practice throwing knives at a target. They were so skilled.
Every muscle in Peter’s body tensed as the sound of the knife hitting the board thudded through the air. His heart beat twice as fast as sweat beaded on his forehead.
The first part tells the reader what Peter is feeling. The second shows it. Any time you can make the reader feel emotions, it will sparkle. One of my favorite ways to do this is by word choice. I love when a character who is shy or often observes the world instead of talks just loses it and rambles on when they are upset. Seeing the shy/awkward character YELL in frustration helps the reader feel their emotions.
The best trick I learned from working with editors is doing a search in your manuscript for things like “I feel, I see, I hear” (same with “She feels/felt, sees/saw, watches/watched). Those are prime examples of telling the reader and pulling them from the experience. SHOW the reader what to feel. Give us the gritty details.
So, much like an interview, date, subbing to an agent/editor, the first impression sticks around. The more you can do to make sure it’s the best it can be is all we can do to survive in the writing world. Hope you are all staying healthy and safe, and getting to dive into good books!
Check out Jacqueline’s new class at SavvyAuthors!
INTERNSHIP WITH THE DEVIL
Grace Turner scores the opportunity of a lifetime interning with an Ex-NFL player. But working under Brock Anderson turns out to be the job from hell. The hometown hero turned athletic trainer has a reputation as the best in his field, but his volatile personality makes working with him miserable.
Despite the animosity between them, he’s highly respected in his field and interning under him could mean everything for her career. The long days, longer nights, injuries, and busses filled with smelly athletes are the easy part. The biggest battle is the unwarranted attraction to Brock that she can’t seem to shake.
But as Grace spends more and more time with her brooding boss, she uncovers that his abrasive nature is deep rooted in his grief—something she’s no stranger to.
The glimpses of the man beneath the harsh exterior Brock presents to the world leave Grace conflicted in her feelings for him. As the internship draws to a close, Grace is faced with a choice that could set her future on an entirely new course
Buy this book!