Jennifer Hillier was kind enough to agree to contribute to The First Page Project. The image above is the beginning of her first novel, CREEP. How good is CREEP?—well, Jeffery Deaver blurbed it, and Suspense magazine called it one of the best books of 2011. I loved CREEP, and can’t wait to find out what happens next. I won’t have to wait long. FREAK, the sequel, comes out on August 7.
Jennifer is represented by my agent, Victoria Skurnick. One of the reasons I signed with Victoria was that her authors, including Jennifer, had great things to say about her. After I signed with Victoria, Jennifer sent me a message welcoming me to the club. We’ve been internet friends ever since.
Jennifer writes about the first page of CREEP below.
- I suck at writing first pages.
- CREEP’s first page was workshopped eleventy billion times, long before the book got published.
Okay, maybe not quite eleventy billion, but I struggle with openings, and in every story I’ve written, whether short or long fiction, I’ve never ended up with remotely the same first page I started with. First pages are really difficult, and you can’t afford to screw them up. Which is why I was delighted when Jeff asked me to analyze why I wrote CREEP’s first page the way I did.
My main goal was to introduce my sex addicted psychology professor protagonist, Dr. Sheila Tao, in a way that showed the reader who she was immediately without grossing you out so badly that you stopped reading after the first paragraph. When I workshopped CREEP a couple of years ago, one of my fellow participants said he thought that Sheila was “gross and unappealing” and that “nobody would want to read a book about a female sex addict.”
Not that I agreed with him (I thought he was kind of mean), but it got me thinking that maybe my first line, “Sheila was a sex addict,” had to go.
I also wanted to introduce my villain, Ethan, in a way that showed you their relationship right away. Sheila was Ethan’s professor, and they were having an affair, and when she breaks off the relationship, he goes a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy – and everything in the book rides on this. But again, I didn’t want to gross anyone out, so the sex scene in the first paragraph? Also had to go.
I decided to focus on two things: voice and tension.
I wanted the rhythm of the narrative to lull readers in, and in the first three paragraphs I kept my sentences as short as I could get away with, for maximum impact. I read the first page out loud several times (I actually did this with the whole book) to make sure it all “sounded” right. Through voice, my goal was to give the reader quick glimpses of Sheila and Ethan’s sordid three-month affair without info dumping.
Next, I purposely left out any kind of description about where they were. It’s hard to maintain tension when you’re describing surroundings, and to me, the setting wasn’t important on the first page, anyway. I wanted to get right to the conflict between the two main characters, because it’s their conflict that will drive readers to turn to page two.
In all, it probably took about fifty rewrites to get that first page right. Even when the book was completed, I was still tweaking that first page. Maybe it’s part of my process, because I’m pretty sure it will be like this with every book I write.
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