Writing Excuses 10.16: What Do I Do With All This Blank Space?

The first page is often the very hardest one to write. In this episode we talk about how to fill the space on the first few pages of your story, because those are the pages where you have to convince the reader to keep going, and the very first page is often the only chance you have to get the reader’s attention at all.

The good news is that the first words the reader reads are not going to be the first words that you write. You can find the story’s voice before you pour that voice into the those first pages.


Write your first thirteen lines, and see how much you can fit into that space—character attitude, point-of-view, mood, genre, conflict, setting, and more.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helen Wecker, narrated by George Guidall.

17 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 10.16: What Do I Do With All This Blank Space?”

  1. A great first page was the opening of Snowcrash, by Neal Stephenson. I hadn’t even considered it, but when it came out from Doubleday Foundation, I walked into The House of SF (a much mourned SFF bookstore that existed in Ottawa), and the bookseller said ‘listen to this!’ and started reading the first page. I couldn’t really afford it at the time, but I bought the first edition hardcover and never regretted it.

  2. I find it kind of interesting that Neuromancer’s first line got used as an example in this episode. It is a great first line, but what I find funny is that, according to William Gibson, he usually writes a book’s opening sentence before he even knows what it’s going to be about. According to him (in an interview at the Paris Review website), he’s only ever had to change his opening line once.

    The point this episode makes about being able to go back and revise a book’s beginning is a good one, of course. Gibson is just an interesting counterpoint. Though I’m sure even he revises parts his opening chapters, if not his first sentences.

  3. So for the writing prompt we’re invited to write 13 lines of a story. I’m new to writing stories, and I’m wondering how long lines are supposed to be? Is that thirteen sentences? Thirteen lines of a standard manuscript format? Thirteen newspaper column lines?

    Is there a reference that serious listeners to this podcast know to follow? I’m new to the podcast with season 10.


    1. @Dave Manuscript format is double-spaced Times New Roman (or, if you’re hard-core, Courier) 12-point font, with 5-space indents for each paragraph.

  4. George Guidall is an amazing narrator. I’ll have to check this out.

    I’ve had the first line of one of my novels in my head for 10 years. The second sentence didn’t come until 3 years ago.

    “Lieutenant Dunbar wasn’t really swallowed. But that was the first word that stuck in his head.”
    – Dances with Wolves

  5. Great stuff. I think this episode could have been at least two or three episodes. There was a lot packed in there, and it shifted focus a lot, but after listening several times I was able to wrap my head around it.
    15 min still seems way too short to me after all these years for what you guys pack in. It always feels like your just getting started when the time is up.

  6. @Muskaan Just to clarify (yes, I know… it’s an OCD thing) that isn’t Selena’s first line. That is Michael Blake’s opening form Dances with Wolves, which was made into the Costner film.

  7. The opening line of The Hobbit remains one of my favorites, perhaps – in part – because it began my lifelong adventure reading fantasy.

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

  8. @derth…I am eternally indebted to you for providing me with this info. I am now going to read the hell out of this book.

  9. I still think I have to write a story the way I read it. I appreciate addressing that and not just saying “yeah you can start anywhere you want” but say “Do NOT write the start first”.

    Time to practice that. :)

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