Roland's Creative Writing Blog

Inspiration, tools and techniques to develop your creative writing.

Why Your First Page is Critical

Posted by roland
roland
After working as a journalist and columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Good
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 06 March 2012 in Roland's Blog

Writing is an art and a craft. If you want to write a novel or screenplay that other people are going to want to read, you have to learn how to craft your story from beginning to end.

In this blog we are going to talk about the critical opening of your story.

The most important scene in a story is the first one, the most important page is the the first and again the most important sentence is the first.

If you want our readers to read your entire story, you need to make sure your story engages them  from the very first line or they won't keep turning the pages.

Ninety per cent of novels and screenplays are rejected because of poor structure.

The goal of a classic story, according to our methodology at the Writers' Studio, is to write stories that have readers wanting to know what happens next while taking your main character on an emotional and spiritual journey of change.

It all begins on page one.

And a good agent, publisher or producer will pick up whether your story is doing that very quickly.

Hal Croasmun from Screenwriting U recently wrote about what makes the first page of a script help sell a story. Most of what he says applies to any story whether it's a novel or screenplay.

Croasman asked twenty five producers, "At what point in a script can you tell if it's written by a professional screenwriter?"

Many said, "Within the first three pages" but more than half of them said, "On the first page."

He explains, "By the end of your first page, a producer is already making decisions about your script and your career. I've heard too many screenwriters say, 'My script starts slow, but it really builds by the end.'

"You know what? That script is going to be a hard sell."

Readers, assistants, editors, creative execs, publishers and producers have a pile of projects to get through. And they want to work their way through that pile as fast as they can.

When they open the first page and begin reading your story, you have roughly thirty seconds to impress them.

Although this may sound intimidating it gives the writer who understands the craft of writing a huge advantage.Writing is a craft that can be learnt.

Before sending your story to readers, you have to pull out all stops and do whatever it takes to make your first page work.

One example Croasmun uses is the opening of American Beauty:

Int. FITTS HOUSE - RICKY'S BEDROOM - NIGHT

On VIDEO: JANE BURNHAM lays in bed, wearing a tank top.

She's sixteen, with dark, intense eyes.

JANE

I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school. (snorts) What a lame-o. Somebody really should put him out of his misery.

Her mind wanders for a beat.

RICKY (O.S.)

Want me to kill him for you?

Jane looks at us and sits up.

JANE

(deadpan)

Yeah, would you?

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN: EXT. ROBIN HOOD TRAIL - EARLY MORNING

We're FLYING above suburban America, DESCENDING SLOWLY toward a tree-lined street.

LESTER (V.O.)

My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood.This is my street. This... is my life. I'm forty-two years
old. In less than a year, I'll be dead.

INT. BURNHAM HOUSE - MASTER BEDROOM - CONTINUOUS

We're looking down at a king-sized BED from OVERHEAD:

LESTER BURNHAM lies sleeping amidst expensive bed linens, face down, wearing pajamas. An irritating ALARM CLOCK RINGS. Lester gropes blindly to shut it off.

LESTER (V.O.)

Of course, I don't know that yet.

He rolls over, looks up at us and sighs. He doesn't seem too thrilled at the prospect of a new day.

LESTER

And in a way, I'm dead already.

To create an opening of that quality requires a sound understanding of story structure which links the character journey to the story events or plot.

It is by having sound structure that you are able to determine the correct place to start.

Here are some concepts to bare in mind to help you draw the reader into your story from the first page:

  • Start with your main character in a situation where they face a confronting predicament.
  • Create an opening image that evokes emotion and raises a dramatic question.
  • Make your opening reveal character and set your story in motion.
  • Create conflict on page one.
  • End the first page with a hook.

Remember, your job as a writer is to make the reader turn that page. That is the art and craft of story telling.

Have patience with yourself and invest the time to learn the art and craft of storytelling. This takes time to master and is a rewarding journey in itself that will keep you the writer turning out good pages from beginning to end.

To read Hal Croasmun full article click here.

Tags: Untagged
After working as a journalist and columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend and The Financial Review, Roland Fishman committed himself to the process of writing fiction, which he believes nourishes and expands the spirit of both the writer and the reader.



He started The Writers' Studio in 1992 and since then, he has personally guided thousands of people through his unique step-by-step process. He has also published three books.

Comments

Guest
A.M. Hudson Friday, 16 March 2012

Great post. :D

Guest
roland Friday, 16 March 2012

Thanks for that. Great to hear.

Roland

Guest
jackie Saturday, 17 March 2012

Caught my attention!

Guest
jen Tuesday, 10 April 2012

always ready to learn more . Jen

Guest
Scott Herford Thursday, 18 April 2013

The American Beauty beginning has to be one of the greatest openings to anything - ever, just basically starts on or around the climax. Not unlike Sunset Boulevarde's opening. A big call to say most producers know by page 1 when most work actually produced isn't doing the business within 10 minutes. The set up and pay off of a character or characters is also a careful balance, I recently saw "The Debt", business is really done at 6 minutes the writers also have a minor gun fight flash back in at 3 mins so that's 3 pages and some intrigue of modern Jerusalem to precede whilst the stage is set. First shot of Star Wars - Little ship, Big Ship blasting it to pieces page 1, 'NETWORK' page 1, 'SAW' page 1, JAWS. You definitely know by 10 pages, comes back to structure more than story, but that would be your speciality, Mr. Fishman. ;)

roland
roland
After working as a journalist and columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, Good
User is currently offline
roland Friday, 19 April 2013

Thanks for your comments they are very well thought out. Please not it wasn't me saying you can tell on Page One. Having said that, the first page or two can give a lot of information away about whether a story is going to work and a writers strengths and weaknesses. And the more polished the story and the more experienced the writer, the more one has to read to get a sense of whether it is working to one's taste. But there are no absolutes and the only rule is what works works.

Guest
Scott Herford Friday, 19 April 2013

What works, works absolutely.

Leave your comment

Guest
Guest Sunday, 23 November 2014