Writing a stellar story is hard work.
That would be why I have no published novel. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know.
A few weeks ago, a literary agent invited regular followers to submit the first couple lines of their first chapters. After 20 entries were placed, the comment section was closed.
My submission? Let’s just say I did not do well. (How long have I been at this writing gig?!) In other words, my first couple of lines did not intrigue and, in fact, confused the reader. Not good.
First Page Questions
On Jane Friedman’s blog, Peter Selgin offers occasional first-page critiques. On September 4th, after sharing a first page sample that had been submitted, he wrote:
Basic, right? But I obviously, I still need basic!
How many Questions to Answer
How many of the six questions—who, what, when, where, how, and why—shall we answer? As you have guessed, readers are more intrigue by unanswered questions and will read further to discover answers. But there is a need for balance.
Answering too many questions—risks giving the reader too much information and decreasing the desire to read on as tension is deflated.
Answering too few—risks confusion or sending the reader in the wrong direction.
What Questions to Ask
The other piece that Peter Selgin focused on was which questions we even wish to ask. We certainly do not have to have all six on the first page.
Which questions we ask and which ones we will leave unanswered depends upon the genre of our story. If we’re writing a mystery or a thriller, focus on the what question and let the search for that answer lead the reader through the story. To ask what, focuses the reader on a situation, a plot.
I’m writing women’s fiction. The most important part of my story is the main character. (That’s not to say thrillers and mysteries do not care about characters but their spotlight is aimed more at plot elements). Since readers of women’s fiction wish to connect with the main character, then I need to focus on the who and the why questions to draw a reader through my story.
Peter Selgin puts it much more eloquently than I have. I invite you to read through the two samples and the critique he offers for first pages on the September 4th blog.