first page critique

Focus: Questions and Answers for First Page Reading

Writing a stellar story is hard work.

Image by  Mabel Amber  from Pixabay

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

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:

The effectiveness of an opening comes down to questions. The questions are always the same: who, what, when, where, how, and why? What varies is which questions are raised and answered and to what extent.
— Peter Selgin, The Challenge of Sensational Openings

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.

  1. Answering too many questions—risks giving the reader too much information and decreasing the desire to read on as tension is deflated.

  2. 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.

First Page Critique

I’m still in the midst of a life pattern change and so my restlessness is affecting my ability to write (Yea. I guess that’s an excuse, isn’t it? As good as the dog ate my homework.)

The KillZone blog, where mystery writers take turns writing columns about the craft of mystery and thriller writing, has an excellent first page up by an anonymous author today.


photo by DXL from Unsplash

And Debbie Burke gives an excellent critique of all that the author does right! A bit different from other blogs or submissions where suggestions are for how to improve the first page.

So head on over, read the sample, the critique, and the commenters takes on it. Lots of learning there.