Books

Entering the First Page student writing challenge? Sci-fi author Cory Doctorow had advice for you!

The author of Radicalized, Little Brother and Attack Surface offers advice on writing a great first page.

The author of Radicalized, Little Brother and Attack Surface offers advice on writing a great first page

The First Page student writing challenge, which invites grade 7 to 12 students in Canada to write the first page of a novel set in 2170, is open for submissions. Students can enter online until Nov. 26, 2020. 

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger. His sci-fi collection of novellas Radicalized was a Canada Reads 2020 finalist. He is also the author of YA graphic novel In Real Life, and his picture book Poesy the Monster Slayer was published in 2020.

To help you craft your first page, CBC Books asked the writer about finding the perfect way to start your novel.

Start in the middle

"I think the dirty secret of writing a first page is that sometimes it's the second page. You can write as much as you want before you find the hook of the story, but you don't have to keep it.

"One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got for writing — once you've done the story — is to start at the beginning and start crossing out sentences until you get to one that you can't afford to lose without the story no longer making sense.

You can write as much as you want before you find the hook of the story, but you don't have to keep it.

"Then go to the end and start crossing out sentences until you get to one you can't afford to lose without the story stopping making sense. Then you've gotten rid of the throat clearing and all the overshooting." 

Activist, journalist and bestselling sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow joined Tom Power to talk about his latest novel Attack Surface, as well as the role of speculative fiction in exploring the challenges and opportunities of humanity's ongoing experiment with technology. 16:38

Be subtle with your world building

"When you're writing science fiction it's important to know that your audience is OK with being what Jo Walton calls 'in-clued.' You don't need to open with an entry from the Encyclopedia Galactica explaining the last 150 years of history. You can just drop in little bits of clue that tell the reader what kind of world they're living in.

Drop in little bits of clue that tell the reader what kind of world they're living in.

"It becomes a kind of puzzle that science fiction writers really delight in creating, and science fiction readers really delight in solving — figuring out from all the clues what world they're actually in."

Cory Doctorow's comments have been edited for length and clarity

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