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How to Nail Your First Three Pages

Lesson 7 of 9

Why Does What’s Happening Matter?

Lisa Cron

How to Nail Your First Three Pages

Lisa Cron

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Lesson Info

7. Why Does What’s Happening Matter?

Lesson Info

Why Does What’s Happening Matter?

This is where we really get down into it because, and the question we're really asking is what does it mean to your protagonist? What does this thing that's happening right now, what does it mean to your protagonist given her overarching agenda? Because all protagonists walk onto the page with something they really want and have wanted for a long time and want very badly, and an agenda to get that. That's just something they've got. Remember we talked about in medias res. This is something that is true and that they wanted before they had any idea the dark and stormy night that they were about to be tossed into. Let me give you a great example here. We're gonna use Simon versus the homo sapiens agenda here, because what was Simon's agenda? We're gonna talk about that and then we'll talk about how what's happening, meaning he's being blackmailed, is going to muck with his agenda. Let's talk about Simon a bit. Simon is 16 years old. He is a junior in high school and he's gay. He's still ...

in the closet, but it's not like he's afraid to come out. He's not afraid that his family will disown him, or his friends will turn their back on him, or he'll get beaten up. He hasn't come out of the closet just because change is hard and he knows that once he does, people are gonna see him differently. Not bad, but just different and all change is hard. Once we've let go of something and we're into something else now, change makes us feel uncomfortable. It's new, we're in the unexpected. We don't know exactly what to expect, so he thinks, you know what? I'm gonna stay in the closet until I get to college and then I can come out, because I don't have to reinvent myself. People will just be meeting me for the first time, but his agenda isn't to not be, his agenda isn't I'm gonna stay in the closet. That is not the agenda he steps onto the page with. The agenda he steps onto the page with is he has met another boy on a, it's an anonymous message board from the school and this boy is also gay. It's anonymous, that boy calls himself Blue and Simon calls himself Jacque, and they've been emailing back and forth. This is the first person that Simon has ever been able to talk to about who he really is and what he wants, and what it's like being gay, and same thing for this other boy. So, they formed a really tight bond and Simon is in love with him. Simon really wants to meet him and turn this into an actual relationship. Again, this is all backstory. That is his agenda, when he steps onto the page, what he wants is is he wants to really, finally get this boy Blue to agree to meet him. That's what he wants, and in fact, that's what he's getting blackmailed about, because here's what happened. What happened is he had emailed Blue that morning or maybe the night before and he suggested, maybe we could actually meet. He was just dying to know if Blue had written him back and he did not wanna wait to get home to check his email, so he did something that he never usually does. He looked at his email online at school and there wasn't, so he left. Forgot to log out and now this other boy, the boy who's blackmailing him, Martin, sits down to open his own email and notices that, gee, someone else's email is up there, Simon. Then, he does what some of us might do, he reads the email that's up there and then he does something that fewer of us, but some of us would still do, he takes screenshots of them. That's why he's blackmailing. Come to this, come back to this question now. What does it mean to your protagonist given her overarching agenda? What does this mean to Martin given what he stepped onto the page wanting? It was right here on page two, and remember it started with, it was a weirdly subtle conversation, I almost don't realize I'm being blackmailed. This is sort of when the penny's gonna drop. This is Martin, Martin says, "This is really awkward, Martin says. "I don't even know how to reply. "Anyway, he says, "it's pretty obvious you don't want people to know." Now, we're in Martin's head, we're inside his head. "I mean, I guess I don't. "Except the whole coming out thing doesn't really scare me. "I don't think it scares me. "It's a giant, holey box of awkwardness "and I won't pretend I'm looking forward to it, "but it probably wouldn't be the end of the world. "Not for me. "The problem is I don't know what it would mean for Blue, "if Martin were to tell anyone. "The thing about Blue is that he's a kind of private person. "The kind of person who wouldn't forget "to log out of his email. "The kind of person who might never forgive me "for being so totally careless. "I guess what I'm trying to say is I don't know "what it would mean for us, for Blue and me." Now, there you go. That's why what's happening now matters. Not why it matters all the way through the end, but in this moment, why does it matter? You've got layers of why it matters. On the one level, he doesn't really want to be outed. That's for sure, I mean, it wouldn't be the end of the world, but he doesn't want it. Also, it would muck up his relationship with Blue and he certainly doesn't want that to happen, but on an even deeper level, he cares about this boy, Blue, and he doesn't know what it would do to Blue. It would hurt him whether he would be outed that way or he'd lose the relationship with Martin. I mean, or with Simon, he does not want that to happen. That is why what's happening in the moment matters to him. Let's circle back to that woman in the stagecoach and let's say that she's the protagonist, and let's name her Clementine. Knowing that she's the protagonist and knowing her name is Clementine, does that make us care about her? No, we could name her anything, would not matter. Let's answer this question for her, what would it mean to her given what's happening right now, what would it mean to her given her overarching agenda? Let's give her one. Let's say, so it's 1857 and she grew up on a farm, it's like the Wild West, on a hard scrabble farm and she had a single mom and lots of brothers and sisters. Her mother really needed her to help run the farm and to take care of her siblings, really needed her. She was 17, so she thought, you'll be done with school. Now, you can come and do this, but Clementine doesn't really wanna do that. Clementine loves science and has loved science since she was this big, and she really feels like she wants to go into medical research, because she really thinks she can make a difference there. She's found a way to go to school back East, and when I was thinking of this and I thought, it's 1857, I couldn't think of a single school that might actually admit women to a medical school. As Clem (giggling), she's gonna now go and she's gonna go to medical school. She's done it, it's 10 years later and she graduated top of her class. She is a medical researcher and she's discovered that there might be a cure for this degenerative disease that she has just learned that her mother has and her mother might be dying. She has not spoken to her mother since she left, because they left on really bad terms. It's the one thing that has bothered her in the 10 years since, and so once she found that out, she took what she was working on. She said, only if I could get there before my mom died and now she's in the stagecoach. And now it might go over the edge. And now you care. You need, it needs to be dealing with their agenda to care, because the way it was before, that notion of her in the stagecoach and she might die. You might go, well, wait a minute. Why do you need that to care about her? Why do you need that? I mean the reason that her being in that stagecoach, the runaway stagecoach matters to her is that she might die, isn't that enough? And the answer is no, we need something like this, because if the reason it matters to a protagonist is simply the same reason it would matter to any of us, because I would venture to say that not one of us wants to be in a runaway stagecoach that might fall over and kill us, other than Finch who might like that. But, then we'd have the reason why it would fit into his context. It doesn't count when it's generic. You need to come down into the why does it matter given their agenda, which also means that you need to know what their agenda is (giggling) and you need to know what they want, and you need to know why, and you need to know what their plan is to get it, so that you can have a problem that's going to thwart them.

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!