Starting Off Right: 3 Tips for Writing a Strong First Page
In my last blog post, I talked about why I love writers conferences. (If you missed my post, you can find it here!) Writers conferences are made up of a variety of events which differ from conference to conference. Some mainstays are one-on-one pitch sessions and 10-page critiques with agents and editors, panels with authors and illustrators, and writing-focused intensives.
As much as I love these events, I will profess that I have a favorite session of every writers conference I attend—the first page panel. The format is fairly simple. Writers sit in a big room and watch a panelist of two to five editors and agents review anonymously submitted first pages of novels. The panelists talk about what they love, and, more importantly, what’s not working on Page 1, including things that may keep them from reading Page 2. I love seeing other publishing people give their gut reactions to the first page of various manuscripts and writers come away with a new understanding of how to craft an effective book opening.
But even if a writers conference is not in your future, you can always take a cold, hard look at your first page and try to improve it! Here’s my checklist for things you want to achieve on page one if you want to really hook your reader and get them to flip to Page 2.
Start in a scene
Rather than beginning your book with a long paragraph of scene-setting, worldbuilding, or explaining, start right in the action and show us a scene that features the main character. Whether she’s washing her car or running from a monster, beginning in a scene gives you a chance to show us (rather than tell us) what the character is like and what sort of world they inhabit. This is also the most effective way to grab the reader and let them know this is going to be the kind of book where things happen—things they’ll want to read about!
Leave backstory and exposition for later
Holly covered this in her recent post, and she hits the nail on the head. As much as you may want the reader to know everything about this character and what they’ve been through, front-loading your first page with a boatload of backstory actually keeps the reader from feeling immersed in the present. As with life, it’s best to live in the moment!
Don’t answer all the questions you pose
My favorite type of first pages are the ones that leave me with a lot of questions in my mind. Why is the protagonist being chased by a monster? Why is she washing her car on a freezing cold night in Maine? What in his life is making him so tough and hardened? I want to leave the first page with a lot of questions that the rest of the book is going to answer. Again, it’s tempting to answer your own questions right away so that we can know the story as well as you do, but there’s plenty of time after Page 1 for us to get into your head!
What do you look for on Page 1 of a book? What makes you keep reading or makes you put a book down? Tell us in the comments!