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.

The First Two Pages Blog

Wendy Hornsby

The most challenging part of writing a story, whether it’s a short-story or War and Peace, the Sequel, is getting the opening just right.  Editors and the reading public are a tough audience that wants immediate reading gratification.  In the first few passages, if the writer doesn’t dazzle the reader while setting the tone, identifying the stakes, placing the tale in time and place, and delivering some beguiling characters, then the reader will move on to something else.  So, how to begin?

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The First Two Pages of GREENFELLAS: In Which Introductions Are Made

Robert Lopresti

When I wrote the first two pages of my new novel I had three goals in mind – besides the obvious one of starting the damned thing, of course.

First, I wanted to tell the readers something very specific about my protagonist, to prepare them for some of the odd turns the book would take. You see, GREENFELLAS is a novel about a mobster, but it is not a typical crime story. It’s a comic tale of a top Mafiosi who, upon becoming a grandfather, decides it is up to him to save the environment for his little granddaughter.

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Character, Setting, Problem

Mark Troy

The Maltese Falcon opens with a quick description of Sam Spade (“a blond satan” and “steep, rounded slope of his shoulders”), followed by the arrival of a visitor. The visitor is Miss Wonderly. We get a brief description of her, some telling details of Spade’s office (the limp cigarettes in the ash tray and the flecks of ash on his desk) and then Miss Wonderly begins to explain the problem that brought her to Spade. All of this occurs quickly. By the end of the second page, we have characters, setting, and problem.

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Planting Questions

Earl Staggs

To draw readers into a story, I try to reach into their heads and get a good grip on their curiosity.  I figure if I do that and hold on tight, they’ll stick with the story until I satisfy that curiosity. To put it another way, in the opening paragraphs, I try to plant questions in the minds of readers that are intriguing enough they’ll keep reading until their questions are answered.

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