That Vital First Page

You’ve written an amazing novel and are hoping to snag the interest of an agent or publisher, and of course you want to capture the interest of future readers. If you’ve ever gone to a writing conference and offered your manuscript to an agent for perusal, you’ll know that they only look at the first page—or part of it—to determine whether or not they want to read more. The first page can make or break you.

The first sentence should grab the reader’s attention and compel them to move on to the second sentence and more.

At a writing conference I attended, agents listed some of the most common mistakes writers make that are like dismissal flags to the agent. Here are some openings to be avoided:

  • “It was a dark and stormy night,” and any other clichéd openings
  • waking up to the alarm clock ringing
  • telling about a dream and then waking up
  • telephone ringing
  • describing a scene passing by while driving a car
  • looking into the mirror to give a description of the character.

In the first few lines you should already have introduced your main character, and have established the point of view. Don’t be tempted to introduce other characters unless they are necessary to the first scene. Readers need to know whom the story is about, but they don’t want to be confused by being introduced to the whole cast in the first five minutes.

Start your story in the middle of some action. You can work forward from there, providing backstory later on. Speaking of backstory, too much, too soon is not a good thing. Nuggets of information can be dropped into the story in bits and pieces later on, but not necessarily on the first page.

As you give the reader glimpses of the setting, you can be establishing the tone of the story. From the choice of language and how you use it, the reader will soon have a sense of time and place. You may convey this by the conservative language of the 1950s, the more archaeic language of the Middle Ages, the modern rap style of big-city youth, or whatever style suits your setting.

Your main character’s language, thoughts, or action should alert the reader to his short-term goal and hint at his long-term mission. You will want to establish the voice of the story. If you choose to use dialogue to give the reader a glimpse into the character’s personality type, make every word count. Make it meaningful. Is the voice serious, sombre narration, or is it more light-hearted? Does your character have an accent that hints at his background and social standing?

This is the page where you cleverly weave in bits of information necessary to the development of the story. Does your character have some heroic quality that the reader can anticipate coming into play? Is he vulnerable in some way? Perhaps our hero will experience some difficulties as he pursues his goal.

The first page is a good place to drop a hint of something mysterious that will come up again in future chapters. Then at the end of the first chapter this mystery may come into play when you craft a good hook for the ending of your first chapter.

With all of these elements in place, readers will be hard pressed not to turn the page and continue reading, and that is the goal of a writer.

I invite you to read the first page of any of my novels using the Amazon “Look Inside” feature, and see if you would like to read more.

To find out more about Anneli Purchase, follow these links:

Anneli’s Website


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