Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Art of the Query and Other Bits of the Biz

First Impressions

First impressions are so important.

A GOOD first impression might be...

Bringing your new math teacher a box of chocolate on the first day of school (ahem… hint hint)

An example of a BAD first impression:

Throwing up in the front seat of new guy’s truck on the first date

People tend to be more forgiving if you slack after making a good first impression. But it’s really hard to recover from a bad one.

As I rolled in for the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach this past weekend, I had “first impressions” on the brain. In writing my latest novel, I knew that I needed to start off with a bang. Hook my reader immediately. Make that good first impression.

And I wasn’t sure if my first pages were compelling enough, soooo I chose “Let’s Roll up Our Sleeves: An Intensive Look at Two of Your Pages” as my first workshop of the day. Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary discussed the essentials that should fill your first two pages.

She said the main purpose of the first two pages is to hook the reader. And if you can hook the reader in the first line? Bo-nus.

What exactly does your hook need?

1) needs to establish character and voice
2) needs to establish conflict and move the story forward
3) needs to establish the tone of your novel
4) needs to give some indication of the setting

She went on to talk about the goals of the first two pages (going beyond the hook!) and said the first two pages should

a) create interest in the character and the plot
b) create a sense of intrigue (oooooh!)
c) create investment

And then she gave some amazeballs examples of some truly compelling openings. Like this one from You by Charles Benoit…

You’re surprised at all the blood.
He looks over at you, eyes wide, mouth dropping open, his face almost as white as his shirt.
He’s surprised too.
There’s not a lot of broken glass, though, just some tiny slivers around his feet and one big piece busted into sharp peaks like a spiking line graph, the blood washing down it like rain on a windshield.
He doesn’t say anything clever or funny, doesn’t quote Shakespeare, he just screams. But no one can hear him, and it would be too late if they could.
You’re thinking, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, this shouldn’t be happening. And now things are only going to get worse.
You’re just a kid.
It can’t be your fault.
But then there’s all that blood.
So, maybe it is your fault, but that doesn’t make things any better.
And it doesn’t matter one way or the other.
When did it go wrong?
The break-in?
No, before that.

Hoo boy. Must. Buy. Now.

And if you’re a writer, struggling with your first pages, Suzie Townsend suggested other books as great examples of novels that make great first impressions.


The Electric Church by Jeff Somers
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

She offered quite a few others, but if you’re a voracious reader who would lock yourself away for two years to even just make a dent in your extensive reading list (like me), then you may not want me to keep going.

The workshop definitely carved a fabulous impression in me… I learned A LOT and it gave me a sort of checklist of things I need to accomplish in my first two pages.

And maybe I can make that awesome first impression… draw in my reader… so maybe they’ll be on the edge of their seat, yearning to know what happens. Never wanting to put my book down.


  1. Yea! Tidbits from the conference. I want a heads up in advance for the next one you attend, so I can start planning. I want to go with you next time!

    Love this blog by the way. I'm going to go back and re-look at my first two pages of my re-do novel (which I'm trying to finish at the end of November). So, was Susie Townsend the agent who did the private critique? First twenty pages, right?

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  3. It was sooo great, right!! Best Workshop of the Conference. I totally reworked my whole first chapter based on these. Suzie Townsend is the best!

    I loved meeting you, Alison!!!

  4. Great post Alison. Suzie's obviously done a far more detailed analysis than I have ;).


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