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! 

About the author - Kat Brzozowski

After seven years of editing both books for teens and adults at Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, I’ve taken the ...

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5 comments on "Starting Off Right: 3 Tips for Writing a Strong First Page"

RB Frank on July 16, 2017, 8:23 p.m. said:

RB Frank


Thank you Kat! At our 10 Min with an Expert meeting this is exactly what you spoke about and here you explain it further. First page is well on its way to good revisions.

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J.M.Colbert on March 12, 2017, 4:42 p.m. said:

J.M.Colbert


I think you can really tell how the rest of the book is going to feel in the first page whether if the writer is great with descriptive opening or the thoughts and dialogue of the writing. I can easily get turned off by too much slang or expectations in the first page. Yeah you can really get a feel for a book straight away with a good first page.

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Sara.Blevins on March 12, 2017, 11:09 a.m. said:

Sara.Blevins


I think strong characters are the number one thing that keeps me reading a book. That being said, on the first page, as a reader, I like small touches of character building that makes me want to connect with the main character in the midst of whatever action is happening. I definitely don't want exposition or back-story--but I do want a tease of the depths of the character--what they still have left to learn and what they have to teach. Those things probably shouldn't be on the first page, of course! But, a hint that lets me know digging deeper isn't a waste of time. As a writer, I try to make sure characters aren't overwhelming by grounding them in action scenes.
But, I do often feel that my "reader brain" and my "writer mind" are in conflict... :)

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T_Garrett Casey on March 11, 2017, 4:31 p.m. said:

T_Garrett Casey


That's a good advice to start out of this story.

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Kim Vale on March 10, 2017, 11:54 a.m. said:

Kim Vale


YAS TO ALL OF THIS.

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