A reader, editor, or agent often gives a first page three or four seconds before closing the book or tossing the submitted page onto the notorious slush pile. What do we have to squeeze into those few seconds?
- We have to grab the reader’s interest immediately, usually with writing something active not passive.
- Ground the reader in the setting, i.e. when and where the story is taking place preferably with specific sensory details. Brief and succinct, not too many details regardless how well-written–remember we only have a few seconds and we have to cover more than setting.
- An interesting character who makes the reader care about him or her is necessary. Show the character’s public and personal persona. Let the reader learn about him/her by the character’s actions, thoughts, or feelings.
- Show the promise of the story. Is there a puzzle or mystery to solve? Is there a love interest that is blocked? What does the character want? What is preventing him or her from getting it?
- No backstory on the first page until much later. Donald Maass, in Writing the Breakout Novel, suggests saving a flashback or important snippet of backstory until after page 100.
The first couple pages and the ending will make or break your chances for acceptance by an editor or agent. Feedback from a critique group or fellow writer can clarify what’s working and what isn’t.
The following link has several first lines of published fiction. How many make you want to read the book?
4 responses to “The First Page”
Following those rules, rules out a lot of good stories and an agent/publisher may be passing up profits. Seems to me, it’s the reader an author wants to capture and enthrall, and readers don’t use those rules. As a reader, if I don’t know the author, I look to the middle of a book and what’s going on there. Moreover, many authors don’t give a hoot about what agents and ac-editors think. They’re going it alone ’cause it makes good sense. Yes, of course, one needs to write a good book, employ the best craft, tell a good story, but this shit about the first page, first paragraph, first sentence does nothing for me and I won’t distort a story for the sake of those first few seconds of an editor’s read.
Of course, you’re right on many counts there, Dave. I like that you look in the middle of a book to see what’s going on there. I think the middle is equally important. However, I hear from many sources that editors are so over-run with submissions, they have to make split second decisions based on that first page. Unfortunately, for writers and readers, a good book could be misjudged and not make it to the book shelves. Thanks for reading my post and commenting.
Definitely a needed addition to my review checklist. Thank you. I spent a delicious hour reading all the 10 Best First Lines in Fiction you supplied — wow! Then I HAD to read the best end sentences and the best sex scenes and the best …… And it was all in the name of research :-)))
Interesting research, I’m sure.