Monday, November 17, 2014

Conference Report: Opening page panel discussion

Thank you very much to Suzanne Jefferies for her report back on the Sunday morning panel discussion on opening pages.

Grab your reader – hook, line and sinker
Opening pages panel, Rae Rivers, Romy Sommer and Alissa Baxter, ROSA Conference

It was a dark and stormy night. A bolt of lightning shook the house. Our heroine woke up, and thought about how lucky she was to be in her cosy, warm bed, not outside in that driving rain…

As our panelists, Romy Sommer, Rae Rivers and Alissa Baxter, agreed, there’s probably more than one aspirant newbie author who makes the above mistakes in their early writing attempts to nail that all important opening page. Boundless clichés, limited dialogue and acres of description proved the chief recurring offenders – not to mention talk about the weather. With great courage, each of the panelists read out one of her earlier opening pages that ticked the box for everything not to do.

So what should a good opening page have? First and foremost, it’s about getting that reader’s attention. Without a reader who wants to read on, your book’s going to languish in the slushpile. But that’s just the start. Not only do you have to hook your reader, but you also have to set the mood, tone and content, introduce the main characters, set the scene, set up the stakes, showcase your voice, and hint at some sort of mystery – all in your opening pages. A daunting task for any writer.

Fortunately, our talented panelists showed us how to persevere. A few re-writes, and a couple of years later, Rae Rivers’ opening line of “She was under a microscope”, proved the clincher for her book. For Romy Sommer, a re-write that used the rain cliché in a fresh way (the sound of a shower) made the difference. And for Alissa Baxter, the original opening pages made a sturdy chapter two, rather than a reader-grabbing chapter one.

The floor was then open to our fellow romance writers who had the opportunity to test their pages on a willing audience. Nothing quite like trial by fire. But if in print you only have those five few paragraphs or so to make your impression, best you make the most of it.

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