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What I Learned While Writing a Novel, Writing

July 9, 2013

First Page, Take Two

Continuing with a short series begun last week, here’s the first page of a revision done once the manuscript was complete. My agent suggested I start the novel a few scenes earlier. This advice was consistent with feedback from other readers, who wanted to see more of Anna’s work life before it became a major problem for her.

Looking back on this revision, I can see that I had a better—but not yet complete—sense of where the novel was going, and was making an effort to orchestrate my opening to set things up to get the reader there.

Not that this is anything like James Joyce’s Ulysses, but in studying that novel in college, I learned something very important about literature: the start of a novel, short story, whatever, teaches the reader how to read it. From the first line, we use what we take in to set certain expectations in terms of character and plot, but also of structure (Joyce takes delight in throwing all this out the window in the second half of his epic novel). It is the writer’s responsibility to craft those expectations carefully, so that when they are either met or shattered, they produce the intended effect on the audience.

Again, my commentary on this excerpt is below.

Annalisa Jonas walked out of the conference room, shocked—not at the news her boss, Matthew, had just given her. Not at the fact that she had been promoted to vice president at the big New York City bank she’d been with since college. But at the reality that making her dream come true didn’t feel nearly as exhilarating as she’d been expecting these last five years.

Returning to her desk and her work, Anna tried to focus. Her practicality and determination were major players in her earning a promotion at this point in her career. So why was she crying? Or was it some kind of shock that now blurred her vision?

The click of keyboards and lively phone conversations around her decrescendoed to a din. One hand brought her glass to her mouth while the other instinctively reached for her snack drawer. The cool water kept her conscious long enough to rip open the package around a granola bar, which she polished off in what might have been a record eight seconds. Anna shook her head gently. She patted a tissue to her face to remove the sweat that had gathered at her hairline, then surveyed the surrounding desks to check if anyone had noticed her episode.

Gen caught her eye, a look of panic on her face. Her headset still on, she continued her call, but managed to mouth to Anna, “You okay?”

Silently, Anna mouthed back, “I think so.”

“Didn’t you get it?” Gen replied.

“Yeah,” Anna answered. This time the signs came on too quickly to treat. In the next instant, she was on the floor.


So . . .

This reads more like the opening scene of a movie to me; it’s “cinematic,” as they say. I have a stronger sense of Anna emotionally, and I get more of her relationship with Gen through their short conversation. I know Matthew by name, and thus expect him to play a significant role in what’s going to unfold. I see a woman wrapped up in her work, and maybe not in great shape, physically. I expect the novel will have some humor in it. On the other hand, the opening paragraph gives a lot of information up front, which makes me think the storyline might be somewhat predictable.

There’s still a little bit of distance between the reader and Anna. I want to be even more engaged with her character from the get-go. I see the potential for that, and I want to see it fulfilled!

I’d probably read some more, were I reading as an agent or editor, because this page fits into a lighter style that I like to read. There is room for improvement, but I see the seeds of something promising. I’d want to see something that surprises me in the next few pages to convince me to stick with it for the long haul.

  1. […] up my series on the first page of my manuscript, today I’m posting the current state of my first page. Per my agent’s […]

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