Last week saw the end of Novel Boot Camp, an awesome writing instructional series organized and hosted yearly by freelance novel editor Ellen Brock. After some highly informative video series on YouTube, this novel boot camp culminated in the critique of the opening page of 225 unpublished novels – mine among them!
I was pretty excited about this opportunity – and, I’m not going to lie, I thought my opening page was pretty darn awesome. (I mean, I think my whole first chapter is pretty awesome – I’ve already posted it here for the world to read.) My opening was deep and dramatic, and had subtle nods to the overall themes of the novel, as well as creating a sense of depth and anticipation for the grand masterpiece which is to be the rest of the book. (Those are my totally humble inner-author thoughts, OK? Don’t judge.)
What did the professional editor think? Eh, I’ll sum it up: “it’s not so awesome”. (I’m 8th up from the bottom of the page.)
At first I was pretty disappointed. Even more so, because after studying the critique, I get the sense my opening few paragraphs were not read very closely. (Of course, there were over 225 submissions – I’m not sure I could have manage to closely read even 10!) But, as I read through the other entries, the truth slowly began to sink in: my opening blended in among the rest of the fantasies opening with the cliche descriptions of weather or backstory. That’s not what my opening is about, at all, but even as I skimmed over a dozen or so novel openings I could see mine becoming one and the same with them. And, if that could happen to me reading just a few, and Ellen Brock reading over two hundred, what could I expect to happen when my manuscript is found in the hands of an agent?
So, humbled and a little heartbroken, I knew my opening had to change. I studied the rest of the 225 entries, and found approximately five total which Ellen Brock liked. Of these, the majority were first person perspectives with a very clear, reach-and-out-and-grab-you kind of voice. I remember only one being in third person, but it too began with a very clear character voice. So, there was my answer: I needed a clear character voice.
I thought for a while on my novel, keeping in mind three things:
1. I needed to open with a character moment.
And this had to be an opening moment that, within 3 sentences or less, would introduce my main character in a way that was intriguing, accurate, and reveling of her personality as a whole.
2. I needed to loosen up on my writing.
The stiff, omniscient voice of my first few paragraphs is nothing like how the rest of the novel is written. I thought, at the time, that voice made my character reveal more dramatic. Turns out, it just bores the audience into quitting before they reach the character reveal at all. I’d also gone through that first page so many times, perfecting and polishing the writing – and maybe I did something I didn’t think was possible: I perfected too much.
3. I needed to readjust my thinking about the opening page.
When I wrote my original opening, I was imaging my audience as someone with a cup of tea, snuggling into a comfy chair with a big blanket all ready for their next few hours to be filled with an awesome, epic-scale story. Well, in reality, my audience should have been someone with about 30 seconds to give me, and they’re already 5 seconds away from putting my book down and never picking it back up. So, in that first page I probably have 3 sentences, max, to convince them to stick around.
And so, after a bit of inspiration and a lot of use of the backspace and ctrl-z, I believe I’ve crafted an opening that meets my new expectations, and you can check it out here.
So, that’s what I’ve been
working on [obsessing over] these past few days. Did anyone else participate in Novel Boot Camp? What’s your opening page look like? Feel free to share it in the comments! Join the conversation below!