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.

Slow Beginnings and Lines of Action

Art Taylor

I recently scanned through my story “Parallel Play,” looking for a short excerpt that would give readers a sense of the story and perhaps tease them into reading it in its entirety. (This was for a blog post at SleuthSayers, hosted by B.K. Stevens, who is also hosting this essay today—not just a tremendous short story writer herself but a true supporter of our whole community.)  I knew the passage I was looking for: a short scene that kick-starts the central conflict, that sets all the drama into motion, really the beginning of main character Maggie’s long ordeal.

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Dropping Hints, Building Conflict

B.K. Stevens

Conflict, we know, lies at the heart of fiction. That seems especially true of mystery fiction, where conflict usually leads to crime. But it’s not always possible or appropriate to open a mystery with a moment of intense conflict. Sometimes, I think, it’s more effective to begin with a quiet scene that drops hints about conflicts to come. And if our characters are so engaging that readers both expect and dread the conflict, that can be a good way to keep them turning pages.

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Sweating the Lede—or the First Two Pages of Barb Goffman’s “The Best-Laid Plans”

Barb Goffman

Long before I started writing crime fiction, I wrote about real crimes—and county council meetings and interesting school events and more. I was a newspaper reporter. One of the most important things I learned in journalism school was to sweat the lede. (Yes, lede—not lead. Correct spelling was another thing they hammered home in grad school, and lede means the opening sentence or paragraph of a news article.)

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