- fiction writing craft
- all levels can learn from this workshop
- 90 minutes (adjustable from 60 minutes to 120 minutes—longer is better)
- Presentation plus interactive critique of submissions by workshoppers
- Materials: pre-conference submissions from attendees (not absolutely necessary, but very helpful to your writers), handouts at session of submissions and tutorial material
Three things that workshoppers will learn:
- the storytelling issues that will stop a professional reader from turning the page
- how to analyze and recognize storytelling and craft problems
- how to apply their learning and new analysis skills to their own writing with fresh eyes
The first page of a manuscript is the most critical page in a submission to an agent or an editor—it has to truly compel the reader to turn the page. In this case, those readers are on the jaundiced side, simultaneously looking for a reason to reject the submission and to love it.
These experienced pros have seen so many submissions that they will tell you that they can decide whether or not the manuscript will be worth their time from the first page alone. Many rejections happen after the first paragraph.
The reason is that the first page foreshadows the craftsmanship and storytelling in the rest of the book, and the pros know it.
The Crafting a Killer First Page workshop is “immersion” training in seeing the shortcomings that cripple a manuscript’s first page—and what workshoppers learn applies to subsequent pages, too. They learn by critiquing in class actual writing previously submitted by the workshoppers themselves.
The workshop opens with a brief discussion of how publishing pros assess submissions with quotes from literary agents and publishing editors, and these six vital story ingredients:
- Story Questions
- Tension (in the reader, too)
- Scene setting
Workshoppers then evaluate the first pages of the opening prologues or chapters of manuscripts submitted by attendees before the conference begins. In standard manuscript formatting in which chapters begin about 1/3 of the way down a page, the first page is the first 16-17 lines, double-spaced, 1” margins, 12-point type.
Workshoppers are invited to submit work prior to the workshop (complete first chapters or prologues), although having work critiqued in the workshop is not at all necessary for learning and benefiting.
The presenter extracts the first pages, strips away names, etc., and provides a handout to the workshop consisting of those pages. The class reads a page, then votes on whether or not they were compelled them to turn the page. The vote is perhaps the strongest generator of new insights to all the participants, but especially those who submitted work. In a previous workshop, one writer told me that by the time the class got to his submission he voted against his own first page.
The presenter leads the class in a brief examination of why they did or did not turn the page, and adds his own notes. Then the class moves on to the next submission.
With the quick succession of page after page and the discussion of why or why not the page was turned, workshoppers soon read the pages in a more analytical and quite different way—and this leads to insights on what they should do with their own first pages.
The presenter provides those who submitted their work with his notes on their pages. When the presenter contacts those who have signed up for the workshop to solicit submissions, he also sends a free instructional excerpt (included at the end of this proposal) that focuses on the six vital story ingredients and gives examples of strong writing craft.