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How to Nail Your First Three Pages

Lesson 8 of 9

What’s at Stake?

Lisa Cron

How to Nail Your First Three Pages

Lisa Cron

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Lesson Info

8. What’s at Stake?

Lesson Info

What’s at Stake?

What's at stake in this particular scene? I don't mean what's at stake all the way at the end, but I mean right here, right now, given what your protagonist wants, given what their agenda is, given the decision they're gonna have to make, 'cause in every scene a character has to make a really tough decision, especially here in the beginning. What is at stake. And the question you're really asking yourself is what does the protagonist stand to lose, given the tough decision the scene is gonna force her to make? What does she stand to lose here? This is the beginning, remember we said that the notion is is this is the first domino that is gonna topple? This is it going over. Now, a great example of that is from Simon Versus the Homo Sapien's Agenda because what, what the tough decision he's gotta make, and what he stands to lose centers around what it is that Martin wants. So we know that Martin's blackmailing him and we know that Martin is threatening to out him about his relationship w...

ith Blue and about being gay. So what does he want? Like, what, what does he stand to lose if he goes along with what Martin wants him to do, and it's kinda cool because Martin doesn't want the usual, he doesn't want him to do his homework for him, he doesn't want his lunch money, what he wants is is that Simon has a group of friends and in that group of friends is a girl named Abby and Martin, let's face it, is a bit geeky, really has a crush on Abby and all he wants, at least, what he says so far, all is he wants is for Simon to kind of bring him into their group and let him hang out with them and then put in a good word for him with Abby. That is what he wants. Now, that's betraying a friend, for sure, but you can see Simon weighing it, it's like, well, okay, so, it's not like Martin said I want you to slip her a roofie and put her in a closet and I swear it'll just take me two minutes. That is not what he said. He just wants him to put in a good word, you know, with Abby, at which point, Abby could just say, are you kidding me, me and Martin, what are you, high? And that would be the end of it, that's all he wants. So it's not that big a betrayal and so that is what it's costing him, and that's what it's gonna weigh. When he weighs that kind of a betrayal against, oh my gosh, I could lose Blue and Blue feeling really bad could happen to Blue, who I really care about. It's obvious he's gonna pick Abby. Now that Abby gets mentioned, although, as you can see in this book, if we're looking at the first three pages, or, I would say, 900 words, you know, chapter one begins halfway down and Abby's mentioned at the top of page four and I think it's about at page when he decides that that's, in fact, what he's gonna do, but that's what happens there. So what about, what about, in All The Bright Places? Remember, we said a minute ago, this is not yet the protagonist. So, so just going back to the what's at stake in this scene, coming to the what does a protagonist stand to lose, given the tough decision he's forced to make? Well, let's read a little bit further because the tough decision he's forced to make right now, what he stands to lose, actually, is he wants to kill himself. He's standing on top of that building and he wants to just jump down in this moment. So, what happens? So, he's up there and it's a six story bell tower. He goes, my arms are outstretched as if I'm conducting a sermon and it's not very big, dull, dull, town is my congregation. Ladies and gentlemen, I shout, I would like to welcome you to my death, you might expect me to say life, having just woken up and all, but it's only when I'm awake that I think about dying. I am shouting in an old school preacher way, all jerking head and words that twitch at the ends, forget that pretty sentence, I almost lose my balance, I hold on behind me, happy to see no one seems to have notice because, let's face it, it's hard to look fearless when you're clutching the railing like a chicken. And we'll skip over a bit, now he says, even though the bell has rung, some of my classmates are still milling about on the ground. It's the first week of second semester, senior year, and already, they're acting as if they're almost done and out of here. One of them looks up in my direction, as if he's heard me, but the others don't, and either, but the others don't, either because they haven't spotted me or because they know, they know I'm there and oh, well, it's just Theodore freak. Again, the backstory, because it's happened many times before. Then his head turns away from me and he points at the sky. At first, I think he's pointing at me, but it's at that moment that I see her, the girl. She's stands a few feet away on the other side of the tower, also on the ledge. Dark, blonde hair waving in the breeze. Hem of her skirt blowing up like a parachute. Now again, that's a little, teeny, tiny seed, a little tiny, tell a very beautiful sentence because one of them has a parachute and one of them doesn't. So, lovely sentence, lovely planted in there, if it wasn't there, would it matter? Not really. Even though it's January in Indiana, she is shoeless in tights, a pair of boots in her hand. Staring either at her feet or at the ground, it's hard to tell. She seems frozen in place. In my regular, non-preacher voice, I say, as calmly as possible, take it from me, the worst thing you can do is look down and now we've got the beginning. We've got the other secondary character, we've got that choice he's got to make, we've got what he stands to lose, which is not jumping at that time. 'Cause what he's realizing in that moment, what he's realizing in that moment is he knows what it takes to want to jump off a building. He knows he's probably gonna do it and he knows she doesn't really want to jump off a building. So, he puts aside what he was going to do, he puts aside jumping off the building, in order to help her first because he knows that's not what she really wants. So, that's what's at stake.

Class Description

Writers know that the first three pages are the most crucial when it comes to hooking the reader. You have to stoke the reader’s curiosity, making them not just want to know what happens next, but have to. It’s biology! Not only that, but the seeds of everything that will happen in your story are planted in the first few pages. No pressure, right? And to make the task even more daunting, ironically, most of what writers are taught to do in those three pages end up locking the reader out, rather than luring them in.

We’ll debunk myths that may have been leading you astray, zero in on exactly what readers are wired to expect in those first few pages, and how to get it onto the page. And the best news yet: the last thing you want to do when first writing those opening pages is make them “beautiful.” The biggest fear that keeps writers from getting past the first sentence is believing that it has to be “perfect” right out of the starting gate. Not only doesn’t it need to be, it can’t be. Big sigh of relief!

In this session you’ll learn how to:

  • Duct tape the critical inner voice to a chair so you can really write.
  • Create the five essential things your reader is wired to expect on the first three pages.
  • Plant the seeds of what’s to come beginning on the very first page.
  • Avoid the crippling myth of “holding important info back for a big reveal later.”
  • Make your reader have to know what happens next.


Elise Loyacano Perl

I rewatched this recently to help me as I was getting ready to write my first few pages. Very helpful guide in focusing on important aspects of how to hook the reader. Lisa Cron is clear and engaging. I highly recommend all her classes.

Caleb Koh

I love and immensely enjoy Lisa Cron's classes! They are packed with so much insightful information, palpable exhilaration and courageous authenticity. She provides enormous value at a fraction of what she SHOULD charge! This class is no exception. Thank you, Lisa, for all that you do here at creativeLIVE.

Jacquelyn Dohoney

A friend of mine recommended this class to me and I'm so glad she did! Now I know exactly how to reorganize my first chapter!