Evaluating Your First Page


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Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If you have a bad beginning, no one will keep reading. This presentation provides an insider perspective on how editors and agents can tell right away whether your manuscript is worth further consideration. Learn how to avoid beginner mistakes that result in rejection.

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Evaluating Your First Page

  1. 1. Evaluating YourFirst Page for Red FlagsJane Friedman | JaneFriedman.com2012 Missouri Writers Conference
  2. 2. Common 1st Page Troubles Over explanation Ordinary day routine Too much detail Crisis moments without unique hook Overwriting, or trying too hard Dialogue without context Interior monologue or reflection Backstory Immediate flashback Info dump Waking up sequence Character dump Phones and alarms
  3. 3. SEDUCTIONTease and tantalize with the story.
  4. 4. Story, Story, Story1. What does your character 1. Introduce your protagonist. want? 2. What‟s the conflict she‟s2. Why does he want it? about to face? What‟s going3. What keeps him from to change her life? getting it? 3. What choices will she have to make?
  5. 5. Memoir Red FlagsIt focuses on your pain orvictimhoodYou‟re telling the storythat‟s a commoncrisis, without a freshangle (cancersurvival, caregiving, death of parents)Your memoir amounts toa journal or diaryMemoir + self-help:Don‟t do it.
  6. 6. Biggest Bad AdviceStart with “action.”The action should havecontext—and be as groundedas possible in a characterthat we‟re already starting tolove.
  7. 7. Action But No CharacterLacks personality, voice, or viewpointDelivers a stereotypical crisis moment that‟s fullof action or pain, but without a centerOffers an action scene for the sake ofexcitement, but without any connection to thereal plot, conflict, or story arc
  8. 8. Action WITH CharacterA character who I feel I immediately know andunderstandA situation that presents a tension, e.g., acharacter who‟s not getting what he wants ormeets oppositionAn indication of the larger story problem orconflict between characters
  9. 9. “Congratulations you have been specially selected to receive a once in alife time Caribbean vacation. If you are interested please press „nine‟now.”Wrenched awake by the ringing phone, I hear the words but it takes asecond for their meaning to penetrate. It‟s only been minutes since myhead hit the pillow and I fell fast into sleep. “A damn recording,” I mutterto myself and drop the receiver back into its cradle. More tired thanirritated, I settle back down. The phone rings again.“Hello? May I please speak to Ms. Trey?” The voice sounds remarkablysimilar to the previous caller but since this time I was asked for byname, I decide to give the caller three seconds to prove me wrong. “Thisis she,” I answer.“Ms. Trey I want you to come to the Caribbean. Say „yes” to hear thedetails of how you can experience this dream vacation for yourself and-”Cutting the caller off, I snarl, “You‟ve got to be fricking kidding me!”
  10. 10. “What the…” Jill Clemmons jolted from a deep sleep her right arm thrashingfor an alarm clock that wasn‟t responsible for the interruption. She kicked outfrom the sheets with a groan, and stumbled toward the window. She openingthe shade in one tug and steadied herself with a hand against the warm glass.“…a lawn mower?” Jill moaned and let the shade drop to the sill.Low-slung denim hugging a pair of trim hips moved away from her as grassspit to the right leaving a trail of fresh clippings. Broad tan shoulders had founda maturity she hadn‟t noticed before, but there was no mistaking it was Peyton.Jill stuffed her feet into the worn pink slippers next to the bed. She stompedout to the living room, and pulled her cell phone out of the top of her purse tocheck the time. “Seven-thirty in the morning?” She tossed the phone back onthe table and considered her options.Plan A ignore him, or Plan B go out and give Malloy a piece of her mind. Shemulled over her options. Plan B seemed more appealing except for the factshe didn‟t have a stitch of makeup on and was still wearing Pearl‟s bluehousecoat. Lovely.
  11. 11. My daughter Sara told me her mom had separated from her third husband.Between bites of goat cheese salad, she said, “Mom asked about you last night—itwas kinda weird. I can‟t remember her ever asking about you in all the years sinceyou guys divorced.” “Hmm,” I said. “What did you tell her?” “I just told her you were fine, that you‟re still practicing law in Marina Del Rey,”she said. “I haven‟t seen Stephanie since your high school graduation. How is sheanyway?” “Well, she‟s bummed about her divorce, but she‟s handling it, I think. She‟sactually doing pretty well.”I wondered what she looked like now. “Does she still live in Santa Barbara?” I asked. “Yeah, she does.” said Sara. “Maybe I should give her a call,” I said. “Why?” asked Sara. “I don‟t know. There‟s no reason we can‟t be friends,” I said. “Well, you did have a pretty messy divorce” “Yeah, I know,” I said.Driving to my condo in Marina Del Rey, I was thinking about Stephanie. I continuedthinking about her right past my freeway exit. She‟d cheated on me. That was whywe divorced—one of many reasons. I never forgave her for it. But the sex hadbeen great before. After our divorce, she moved the children to Santa Barbara, two hours away.She trashed me in front of them and cancelled visitations at the last minute. Iremembered once I picked them up for a visit. Stephanie told me I could only havethem for three hours, because they had to go to a birthday party for her boyfriend‟smother. I called her a fucking bitch, right in front of the children. I still felt ashamed.
  12. 12. Parting WisdomWriting is rewritingNever expect an editor/agent to polish your workor take it to the next levelOnly send your absolute best work; most peopleonly get one shot with an agent/editor (permanuscript)If you think published/best-selling authors areheld to a different standard than you, they are.You are unproven in the market.
  13. 13. ResourcesHooked by Les EdgertonThe First Five Pages by Noah LukemanPlot & Structure by James Scott BellAnything by agent Donald Maass
  14. 14. Continue the ConversationJaneFriedman.comNewsletter sign-up: JaneFriedman.comJane@JaneFriedman.com