Friday Forum: Grab Their Attention

Shakespeare began every play with something special. It was designed to grab the attention of those closest to the stage. If he could get The Pit’s attention, he was golden. It’s no different for a novel writer. The Law of the First Five applies for us. The first five lines must grab the attention of the reader and the first five pages must hold it. Many refer to it as setting the hook.

When an agent expresses interest in a manuscript, he or she usually asks for the first X number of pages. A writer must get that agent’s attention straight away or the pages will be tossed. The agent knows that if he or she isn’t interested immediately, neither will the reading public.

This topic is of particular interest to our heroine as she rewrites her series, dear Reader. My first pages are coming together but are not ready for prime time. I took a look around the net for inspiration.

Andrew Jack’s Writing Blog addresses The First Paragraph, inspired by literary agent Nathan Bransford‘s First Paragraph Challenge. This is a double duty referral. First of all, do take a look at everything to do with that First Paragraph Challenge. Nathan Bransford wrote about the good, the bad and the ugly regarding what was submitted. Andrew Jack’s article gives some simple rules and suggestions about the first paragraph, too.

Write It Sideways has an excellent article titled How to Write a First Chapter that Rocks. This one not only gives advice, it links to examples of various great first paragraphs and pages. The differences among them may surprise you. I found encouragement here. Every story can begin with its own form of bang. The collection of links here is fantastic and the advice serves to reinforce the lessons to be found.

If You Give a Girl a Pen has some great advice about going beyond that first paragraph and keeping the reader’s attention in Your First Five Pages. There are tips and strategies here you may not have considered. It’s important to treat the first pages with keen focus. This article shows some ways of doing just that.

If after all this you don’t buy into the theory of the First Fives, I suggest you read the next article. In fact, give it a read either way. There’s great information to be found in Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog‘s article 7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Paragraph. It’s a guest column by Livia Blackburne. She wastes no time when she lists and explains each point. Save yourself some time and nail biting. Double check with this list before submitting your work.

Shouldn’t every paragraph, every page, even every word count? By all means. By the time your novel reaches publication, they will. To get that far, it will have to garner the attention of someone who can make that happen. Pay special attention to the portions that will grab the agent or editor’s attention. After all, those are the portions that will convince someone to be one of your readers.


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13 thoughts on “Friday Forum: Grab Their Attention

  1. Cassandra Jade December 18, 2009 at 10:12 am Reply

    Some great links and good advice. Thanks so much for sharing as many writers have trouble making their first pages count.


    • Jessica Rosen December 18, 2009 at 2:35 pm Reply

      It is a tough thing to do. We envision our stories unfolding in certain ways. Learning that we can set the hook without compromising the story was a relief for me. I’m glad the information is useful to you as well. Thanks very much for the feedback. It helps.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  2. Clare Sager December 19, 2009 at 12:04 am Reply

    More great advice – thank you for collecting all these useful articles for lazy people like me to read! Every week I find a great new writing blog to follow from your posts.


    • Jessica Rosen December 19, 2009 at 11:25 am Reply

      Thanks, Clare – it means a good deal to me to know that these articles are useful. I figure I’m doing the research, others may want to see what I’ve found. It’s good to know that’s the case. Thanks for leaving the feedback. I hope to see you again soon.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  3. […] Friday Forum: Grab Their Attention Jessica Rosen is full of good links as usual. This week she gives us clues so that we can be as good as Shakespeare. […]


  4. Bill December 20, 2009 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Very nice article; thanks for sharing.


    • Jessica Rosen December 21, 2009 at 2:02 am Reply

      Thanks, Bill. I appreciate your stopping by.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  5. David J. West December 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm Reply

    Nice Jess, its funny how after reading this I’m neurotic enough to have to go back and reread my own opening (that is coming in just over a month and I can’t change now)and be sure it follows the rule of 5’s.

    It does and I knew it did but had to look again.


    • Jessica Rosen December 21, 2009 at 11:53 pm Reply

      That’s not neurotic, that’s being an author. Okay, maybe it’s both.

      My son (23) and I are eager for your novel to be released. You must be on the edge of your seat – I would be. Hrm. Perhaps “I will be” is more positive there. In any case, your novel is going to be a late birthday gift for him. Of course, I’ll have to borrow it before I hand it over or I’ll never get to read it!

      Always nice to see you, David. Reminds me I need to pop by your blog now that I’m up and able to make the rounds again.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  6. David J. West December 23, 2009 at 7:36 pm Reply

    Thanks Jess, I appreciate the enthusiasm. And I second your “I will be”.


  7. […] she’s here (as well as at Andy’s weekly round-up of links). Check out Jessica’s Friday Forum: Grab Their Attention for some great links on those pesky first paragraphs, pages, and […]


  8. […] I’ve been wanting to add for some time; now she’s here. Check out Jessica’s Friday Forum: Grab Their Attention for some great links on those pesky first paragraphs, pages, and chapters. Possibly related posts: […]


  9. Forum: Openings « Girl Meets Word April 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm Reply

    […] perhaps one to supplement your writing momentum. We dealt with this concept in a past Forum called Grab Their Attention. Here are some more links that deal with opening scenes. The writers share good ideas. You may find […]


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