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Putting Your Best Foot Forward: More Tips for Writing a Strong First Page

Ah, first pages. The best and the worst, the most fun to read when done well and the most difficult to get right. There’s nothing better than reading a really great first page, but it’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself when you know that it’s the first (and sometimes the only) part of your manuscript that an editor or agent is going to see!

A few years ago, Kat wrote an excellent post with a few tips on how to write the perfect first page. While all of her tips still stand, I thought it would be great to resurrect the subject and provide a few more helpful guidelines for when you are perfecting your first page—whether it’s for a critique partner read, to query agents, a writer’s conference, or to submit your manuscript to Swoon!

1.) Drop us in, but don’t leave us clueless.

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I love to be dropped right into the middle of a scene—it makes everything more exciting, immediately establishes stakes, and captures my interest much more quickly than a solid paragraph of backstory or exposition. However, I don’t like to feel as though I have NO IDEA what it happening. I need some context, even if it’s just a line or two, of where we are, or the kind of world this story is going to exist in, or if those spaceships flying straight at my home planet are the baddies or the goodies. Sometimes people can take “drop me into a scene” too far and leave me clueless and frustrated. It’s a delicate balancing act, but it can be done!

2.) Who is your main character?

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Similarly, I have read many first-pages-in-progress that don’t introduce a main character—or even any character—at all! Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. It is totally possible to write a deeply compelling first page that gives the reader no idea who the protagonist of the story will be. However, if you are going to have a protagonist in your first page, I need a bit of character work. This can be tiny—how they react to something someone else says, what they think about whatever is happening, a line of dialogue, even a name! I find that particularly in first person stories, sometimes people assume you can jump right in to a character the same way they think you can with a scene—just as scenes need a bit of context, so do characters!

3.) If you’ve got an amazing first sentence, use it!

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To me, the best part of a good first page is always the first sentence. I mean, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife?” Genius. Bring it on, I need that book in my hands immediately! Obviously a first sentence (and even a first page) doesn’t make or break your book, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Don’t spend weeks constructing and deconstructing your first sentence (unless that’s your process, in which case you do you!), but maybe do take a second to give it some extra love right before you send your manuscript off to a new reader.

4.) Learn from the masters.

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Speaking of Jane Austen, one of the most helpful things you can do is go back and reread your favorite books and see how they handle their first page. What about it drew you in the first time you read it? What kept you coming back? Is there a format or a hook or a particular writing trick they use that you found incredibly compelling? As with all writing, the best way to start getting better at it is by reading, and that goes for first pages as well!

Got questions about writing first pages, or writing/publishing in general? Let us know in the comments!

Author spotlight

Rachel D.

Growing up in rural Oregon, books were my way out. Now, books are my way of reconnecting with my home. …

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