ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

IWSG post - A First Page Checklist - would an editor or agent turn the page?

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Hi all!

Welcome to another month of IWSG posts. Thanks to Alex J Cavanaugh and his assistants for running this helpful meme.

Those amongst us who have written unpublished novels, whether we've submitted them or not, might, like me, feel very insecure about sending the ms off to a publisher. I found this checklist on the blog: Flogging the Quill, where published author and writers' helper Ray Rhamey offers all sorts of tips for unpublished writers, including a free public chapter critique.

I liked Ray's very comprehensive checklist to keep the editor/agent compelled to read on. It had me combing my first page for these elements...

A First-page Checklist

Do you have all these elements on your first page?
  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

  • What about you? Would you add anything to the checklist?
  • Do you disagree with Rhamey on any point?


Thanks for taking time out for your holiday preparations and coming by. I hope you'll visit more blogs today.



35 comments:

  1. What a great checklist! I think a connection to the protagonist is essential. It helps if she's relatable and likable, although sometimes that can't be completely accomplished in just the first page.

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  2. Helpful checklist. Though dialogue, descriptions and action all in the first page, may feel crowded sometimes, depending on the story. Open in the now and open with action are non-negotiable.

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    1. Open in the now and open with action are non-negotiable. Right on Nila.

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  3. Fantastic checklist! You know, what, Denise, I might have these elements on my first page... :-) I'll have to check Ray Rhamey's blog. Thank you for such an interesting post.

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  4. Those are good tips. Luckily, there are lots of great articles on craft out there. I love to read everything I can find! :)

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    1. Me too. I read it and usually try most of it. Not always successfully!

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  5. Hi Denise - good to see you back. These seem to be excellent tips for a story .. and I'm sure draw us in and keep us entertained ... otherwise the book is 'chucked out' - sent to a charity shop ...

    Cheers and glad to see you .. Hilary

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  6. Good morning, Mate! We easily sold our condo but getting to the point where it could be listed was A lot. Of. Work. Then, getting settled in North Carolina was A lot. Of. Work. All worth it, but, sheesh, don't want to move again. How did your beach cottage turn out? Ready in time for summer? Anyway, I'm following you now on this site. Sorry I was like a turtle getting here!

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  7. That is a lot to work in, but you sure do need everyone

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  8. You've provided the most complete first page check-list I've read. Thank you.

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  9. I'm always insecure when I send the first book of my unpublished series to an agent. I'm going to take this checklist and look at my first page. Thanks! :)

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  10. I agree and disagree (because I'm ornery like that). There are plenty of published, wonderful books that don't start that way. While the NOW does sing louder, I really don't think there are any hard must-do-this rules. If you can make it work, then it works. The trick is making it work ;)

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    1. You're right. The trick is making it work. I like to try these things, yet not slavishly follow rules. Every little bit helps improve my writing.

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  11. That's a really good check list and is very helpful.

    Hi Dx; I've been offline for a while and haven't got around to visiting much. Hope all is well in the Land of Oz and you survived that political invasion thingy.

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    1. Political invasion over, now we are trying to survive vicious storms. Glad you got around to visiting me.

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  12. Thank you for your comment about my husband's illness. And for the good wishes. That was so kind of you. And isn't it great to have Kittie back?

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    1. So excited to have Kittie back. One of my favourite ladies! I hope all goes well with your husband Inger.

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  13. This does sound like a great checklist. I found myself nodding as I read through each checkpoint. :) Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

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  14. I'm so going to pocket this check list. I missed one in my first chapter and my friend told me and I totally put my palm to forehead and went duh!!! luckily, easiest fix :)

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    1. It's good to have a checklist like this but you don't have to slavishly follow it. Glad you found your fix!

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  15. It's a pretty good checklist although I agree with Lynda that there are no hard and fast rules. Going straight into action is always a great bet though.

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    1. Yep, it's good to have some excitement early in the game.

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  16. How funny that you should post this, Denise. I just attended the Writer Unboxed UnConference where Ray did a first page workshop, so his ideas are fresh in my mind. I agree with Lynda, and while Ray's checklist is excellent, cast-iron rules generate formula. If every writer were to follow every point on the list, every book would have the exact same type of opening.

    Not that the first page shouldn't hook the reader, but it's really only literary agents (not readers) who say things like, “I know most of what I need to know about a writer’s chops in about a line and a half.” (Dan Conaway, Writers House). Apologies to Dan, but I believe this nothing but hubris and hooey. There are tens of thousands of books where seemingly unremarkable first lines have led to remarkable stories.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. I tend to agree VR, but he has some very interesting ideas. I also agree that some wonderful novels start off kinda slow.

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  17. Great tips. It's good to be reminded of this once in a while.

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  18. Hey, Denise,

    We do have a lot to consider on that first page, but it's all necessary and ensures that we have a viable story going. Since a writers learning is never done, these are good reminders I should copy and post somewhere for quick reference.

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  19. I think the opening lines of the story have to compel the reader to want more. Some good points to remember, thanks Denise.

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  20. Man, that's an intimidating list! I definitely know you need to pull the reader in fast, but I'm not sure ALL these need to happen, as I'm not sure if they COULD without it getting bogged, but it needs to be ENOUGH of them... make the reader care about the character and what happens next, which requires hint of plot and enough of set-up to orient.

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    1. If we don't care about the character we're done.

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  21. I love checklists! For me they're the only way I can focus on something and really accomplish what I set out to do. Thanks. I'm adding this to my checklist file.

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  22. I agree with the checklist, but to put it in actual effect...hehe...and if everyone adhered to this, wouldn't it be formulaic?

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    1. Not necessarily formulaic as every story idea is so different.

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  23. The scene must be in the present not the past - check.
    And sorry I missed this and your other recent posts!! New site is in my Feedly ready now and will make sure the right one is in my sidebar.

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