The First Two Pages

Every Tuesday, a mystery writer explains how he or she faced the challenges of those brutally difficult–and vitally important–first two pages.

Hooking the Reader with Character Development

Susan Furlong

I love to read. I’m also a busy mom, so I don’t have much time, or patience, to invest in a book that doesn’t hook me from the first couple pages. What I’m most drawn to in a book isn’t the setting, or pretty writing, or even the premise of the story. What draws me in and keeps me reading is the main character. So, when I choose a book or a new series to read, I often skim the first two pages to see if the author can introduce me to a character who I want to get to know better. Someone who I’ll care about and will want to travel with for the course of the story. Because isn’t that what a book is? A journey of sorts? And who wants to be stuck on a long trip with a boring travel mate?

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Antagonizing the Protagonist

John M. Floyd

One of my favorite quotes about writing came from author Margaret Lucke. She said, “You can’t protect your characters—the words protagonist and antagonist have ‘agony’ built in.” She was right. Especially about the protagonist. As fiction writers, one of our primary goals should be to heap a heavy load of misery onto the shoulders of our hero or heroine, and to do it as soon as possible.

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The Sea Horse Trade

Sasscer Hill

This author believes that properly staging each scene of a novel is vital, and the first scene the most critical of all. Imagine you are watching the opening of a play. The stage is dim, a wind is blowing, a female figure walks alone on a deserted street, she appears worried–you know immediately this is not a comedy, probably not a cozy. THE SEA HORSE TRADE is a novel about human trafficking, and though it is not without humor, I wanted to set the mood and the stage in the first paragraph.

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Rapid Orientation Through a Layered Approach

Paula Gail Benson

I write short stories. For me, two pages may be a fifth of the tale I’m telling.

Within the first two pages, I need to introduce the main characters, setting, and situation confronting the protagonist as well as inserting a few hints about how the matter will be resolved. I have to establish relationships and conflict so that readers are already wondering what’s going to happen next.

My story, “The Train’s on the Tracks,” recently published in FISH OR CUT BAIT: A GUPPY ANTHOLOGY (Wildside Press, April 2015), takes place on the floor of a State Senate during a filibuster over a controversial bill. Thanks to CSPAN, news programing, and movies, readers have some familiarity with how a legislative chamber looks and what happens during a debate, but this story presents a different perspective from what they are used to viewing.

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The Opening Six-Pack

James M. Jackson

I strive to write openings that resemble a hunk’s rippling abdominal muscles: strong, taut, and without a layer of fat—your prototypical six-pack. Producing that effect does not come without great effort. To develop an opening six-pack, I incorporate six design elements.

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