Tuesday, October 6, 2009

First Impressions (and a Winner!)

Happy Tuesday, y'all. It's a gloomy morning here in Texas. More rain is in the forecast, with a potential for some thunderboomers later. I love this kind of weather. Probably because it's rare that we get stretches like this. If I lived some place where it was like this all the time, well, I might feel differently.

When you wake up in the morning, do you look out the window, and decide what kind of day it's going to be? Bright and sunny? It's going to be a beautiful day. Cloudy, gray, and rainy? It's going to be a dreary day.

When we meet someone for the first time, our minds quickly form an impression based on any number of things. Their smile, their appearance, how they speak . . . I once knew someone who always looked at a person's shoes. In particular, how they cared for their shoes. Were they shined or scuffed? Were the heels worn? You just never know what's going to grab someone's attention.

The same thing is true for our books. Did you know that we have approximately ninety seconds to capture a reader's attention? Staring at the shelves of books, they're likely to select a book based on it's cover. Granted, that's not something we always have a lot of control over. Next, they read the back cover. If that interests them, they'll open the book and read the first page. And so it goes.

Not so different from grabbing the attention of an editor or agent, is it? So how do we make those first glimpses of our story shine?

For starters, cut out the backstory. You want the story/character to progress. Don't pull your reader backwards by inundating them with information they really don't need yet. Give them only as much as they need to understand the scene. Basically, leave 'em wanting more.

Second, give them a character worth rooting for. Someone the reader connects with and/or cares about. To do this, give your character a defined goal and sufficient motivation. Why do they want what they want and why is it so important they achieve it?

Lastly, start with the story disturbance. What is suddenly standing in the way of the hero/heroine's goal and upsetting their life as they know it? Okay, this doesn't necessarily have to be on page one, but you want it as close to the beginning as possible.

Weave these elements with snappy dialog and strong word choices to draw the reader into a story that's unputdownable.

Q4U: How do you know when you've nailed these elements and your manuscript is ready to go? Do you have steps you go through to make sure it's polished? How do you come up with that first line that sings?


Lynn Rush was the name drawn out of the hat for the $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card. Congratulations, Lynn!


  1. Great post. As for when do I know my MS is ready? I'm not sure I ever know. LOL. Mostly it's when my crit partners have hashed it, I've made corrections and I'm almost getting sick of going through it. . .

    Yeah...I won the prize. That's so cool. Thanks you guys. What a nice little treat today.

  2. Great post, Mindy! I think maybe we should come up with our own checklist. Since I haven't done that yet, what I've found that helps is to set the book aside for a while. Then go back and read the opening. Does it pull me right in? Does the pacing feel right? Do I care about the characters? Do I hint at the conflict to come? Do I leave the reader with a story question?

    Yes, I need to make myself that checklist! And I'll start with all the things you mentioned. :)

  3. Oh, I know when it works for me, but when it works for the mass majority, that's a whole other question! Still learning and growing in this!

  4. I'm with you, Eileen. Of course, you know what they say, you can't please everyone. Sigh. Guess that's why it's important never to stop learning.

  5. Lynn, glad we could make your day a little brighter. And aren't crit partners wonderful? Where would we be without them?

  6. Great ideas, Missy. Feel free to send me that checklist :-)

  7. I'm not sure I know something is going to work until I let crit partners or friends read the work and get their feedback. Sometimes what I like isn't what others like.

    Congratulations, Lynn on winning the gift card!

  8. Good question. Sometimes I think I've nailed it, and then I'll get 2-3 comments to change it. That is so disappointing. My question is, when do you go with your gut feeling and the confidence you originally had from it? And let the 2-3 comments go?