In my workshops on Crafting a Killer First Page, I often see people choose to turn the page even if there are serious storytelling or writing issues. They’re just being “regular” readers, and can’t adapt a pro’s ability to scan a first page and decide right then and there whether it’s worth a page-turn. In addition to a lack of experience, they’re being generous. There’s no generosity in the offices of agents and editors when it comes to spending their valuable time sifting through submissions for the good stuff.
FtQ readers are better at it, I think, but still let many pass that I don’t think a publishing professional would accept.
Here’s what pros realize that amateurs often don’t— your first page foreshadows your entire novel. Put simply, if it’s gold, then the pro knows that there’s more gold ahead. And gold is the only thing that will work with professionals.
If an opening page contains grammatical errors and clumsy language, forget about it. That’s the basic requirement. Pros know that the manuscript will continue that way.
If it starts with backstory, a pro sees instantly a lack of a grasp of the need to capture a reader immediately. That lack signals an unprofessional manuscript that will likely fail.
If nothing happens on that first page—no action or conflict—a pro expects more of the same for pages and pages, and knows that a reader won’t buy that book.
But if you open with a scene in progress with action, dialogue, description, and a story question on the first page, a pro will stay with you.
If you open with over-description of a setting, especially to the expense of including action or raising a story question, the pro knows that there’s more slogging ahead—and they don’t have time or energy to slog.
But if your opening description is crisp and experiential, if it characterizes as well as visualizes the scene, you’ll be promising more of what a pro wants to see.
If the opening has no tension caused by raising at least one story question, well, why would anyone read on? Examine your first 16-17 lines to see if they do that. If not, revise until it does.
For what it’s worth,
© 2012 Ray Rhamey