S2/E7: How to Nail Your First Three Pages by Lisa Cron
Lisa Cron is an expert in story analysis, who has consulted on stories for Warner Brothers, the William Morris Agency, Village Roadshow, Icon, and countless writers and journalists. She teaches and speaks in a variety of education outlets beyond Creative Live, including the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and Author Accelerator. She’s the author of the bestsellers, Wired for Story and Story Genius. She also offers one-on-one story coaching. She has a slew of free resources on her website, that I recommend you check out.
1 You don’t have a pact with your reader. It’s not their job or obligation to finish reading your book. Don’t try to trick or manipulate the reader by holding back what’s actually happening for a “big reveal” later. Writers often mistakenly think this that being vague and holding back will lure readers in, when in reality it’s the opposite. By holding back, nobody can do what they would normally do, think what they would normally think, or care about what they actually care about. And so the reader is often bored, confused, or frustrated by the main character’s behavior. And this is important, because…
2 The bond between readers and your characters is everything. Readers tend to invest in our characters far more than with the plot itself and certainly far more than they do with you as the writer. Readers are less picky about plot glitches than inconsistencies in character behaviors. A reader is far more likely to put down your book because you’re being too vague about what’s happening to your characters (and why it matters) than because you’re being too obvious. Lisa Cron implores us: “Give it all away at the beginning! You’re not being too obvious. You’re giving us what we need to pull us in.”
3 When you’re first crafting your opening pages, forget the beautiful writing for now. Instead, focus on the promise you’re making to your reader. Cron lists off six elements that you need to have going to attract and keep the reader’s interest in your book. If you’re familiar with the GMC construct – Goals, Motivation, and Conflict, you’re halfway there. Again, building on the importance of character, the goals and motivations of the protagonist (and antagonist) must be clear, along with the conflicts they face in achieving their goals. Throw in some sense of what will happen if they don’t succeed (the stakes) and a glimpse of how this fits in the big picture of the main characters’ lives, and you’ve just about got it.
*In medias res. If you’re starting in the middle of things (as you almost always should), then it can be useful to think of your book as being the first page of the second half of your story. Where would it start then? Using this hack can help you to avoid the temptation to open with backstory.
When in doubt, start with the problem:
“Story is what happens when our expectations are broken.” Lisa Cron in How to Nail the First Three Pages
This class is quick — only about an hour. She offers examples from Celeste Ng’s What I Never Told You, Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, and Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda.
You can access CreativeLive classes in multiple ways:
CreativeLive streams free courses every single day.
Also possible to buy your courses. This one is listed for $49 (on sale from $98).
Also possible to get all access passes. $39 a month or $149 for annual pass ($12.41/mo).
I’d say most classes will cost between around $15 and $75, but some fall outside that range. Right now, CreativeLive has a $15 coupon for both of us!
I hope this was helpful to you! Next week I’ll be applying this same approach to Joyce Carol Oates MasterClass: Joyce Carol Oates Teaches the Art of the Short Story.
Until then. . .
Happy writing, people!