Writing First Pages and the Insight of Jill Santopolo – Editor at Philomel Books

Oct 17, 2017Pat's Chat, Writing tips

It was another fantastic SCBWI-Iowa conference in Cedar Rapids this past weekend and my fingers can’t keep up with the ideas that are spewing from my brain! So many great talks and helpful advice, and I will share the topics of FIRST PAGES and the valuable insight provided by Jill Santopolo from Philomel Books on SETTING YOUR INNER CHARACTER FREE.  If only everyone read our books like this:    

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Opening pages are essential to any story because they provide CONTEXT and GROUND THE READER in the scene. They should ESTABLISH THE WORLD, introduce the CHARACTER and why we should care about this character, and tell us the STAKES, all while getting to the action as soon as possible. Easy right? 

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(Just keep swimming, just keep swimming – revise, revise, revise…..)

Backstory is woven in as intermittent beats but not as chunk paragraphs. 

DON’T:  Start with your character waking up, driving down the road, dreaming, moving to a new place, or with the weather.

DON’T: Start with dialogue with no context, don’t use a prologue (debatable)

NEED A GREAT FIRST LINE: A declarative statement that raises a question in reader’s mind and sets the tone or voice to capture the story. Opening paragraph is your pact with the reader. 



Jill Santopolo – Editorial Director of Philomel Books – SETTING YOU INNER CHARACTER FREE


Recommendations to develop your character:

1.Make your character interesting – who wants to read someone boring. Make them unique, quirky, memorable

2. Make the character have a trait that makes reader concerned about them – emotional attachment, a flaw

3. Make character seem like someone you want to know more – reader with empathize if similarities or intriguing

4. Character can’t be TOO perfect. Needs to be vulnerable for reader to connect and be emotionally invested and get pulled in.

Questions as you develop your story and plot character’s path:

What is the character’s plot goal? And what is heart’s desire? 

What motivates the character? This will be the factor that carries that character’s heart’s desire to their goal. 

How does the character change from beginning to end? (Should also change in each scene in some way.)

My own notes on characterization and the main theme from all speakers is to do as much characterization and development before you even begin to write your novel or story. If you don’t know your character’s inside and out, it will be hard to know how they will respond on your journey.

Happy writing!! Thanks for visiting Pat’s Chat.

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