Happy Saturday! Today I’m going to be telling you about the importance of the first page in your manuscript. Okay, so if you aren’t planning to try and get an agent or don’t plan on publishing at all, then you might still want to read this because it will help you in the long run.
About three weeks ago, I went to the Carolina Writer’s Workshop and learned A LOT about how the first page will make your reader or an agent think of the book. There was this thing called Writer’s Got Talent, where all of the writers could submit the first page of their manuscript and all of the agents would listen to Chuck (from writer’s digest) read them out loud. They would raise their hands at the point that they would stop reading.
And you wouldn’t believe how much I learned from that. So here are all of the things NOT to do in your first page:
So here’s my first tip: Don’t add in too much description. The one thing that I saw the most, was the overflow of description that turned people away. The first page should be interesting, so if you are going to describe something, it has to be something that hooks the reader, something that they couldn’t describe themselves. Agents have hundreds of submissions, so odds are they aren’t going to have the time to work past the problems on page one to see if the rest of your story is good. And readers have thousands of books to read, so you need to give them a reason to pick yours.
Remember, you can always get that rich description in later, but for now, you just need to get them reading. And I don’t mean to take out all of you adjectives, just be a little choosy so it doesn’t seem excessive.
Next, and this is important, Don’t be cliche. One of the stories being read out loud started in the most cliche thing possible: a dream. So many books start off with the main character having a dream, and then waking up from it, and walking through their day. And it doesn’t make you a bad writer if you’ve done this, heck I’ve done this, but it’s just the easy way out. If you are going to start off your story in an action scene, don’t make it a prank on reader and say OH IT WASN’T REAL. IT WAS A DREAM.
This was a problem I had with the beginning of my trilogy, because let’s face it: first drafts almost always suck. Mine was a horrible beginning, except for what happened in a dream on the first page. Yes, a dream. I started this story before I realized how cliche dreams were. To fix this, though, i rewrote the beginning and made what happen in said dream ACTUALLY HAPPEN. Since my book is so… different, I could easily do this. Some cliches, though, aren’t so easy to fix and can end up messing up your story. Its better to just avoid them in the beginning than to fix them later.
There are other simple cliches that I’d like to warn you about: Don’t tell your character’s height and weight in the first page. Nobody really cares about that yet, because you haven’t hooked them yet. You have an entire book to tell them all about the character and their life, so don’t try to jam it all in on page one.
Another one? Don’t talk about your character’s hair on page one. For some reason, all of the agents seemed to want to cut the character’s ponytail off as soon as it was mentioned. They are nice people, but I think anyone would want to put a story down after hearing hundreds of first pages talking about the character’s hair.
Don’t be boring. This one should be obvious, but there are many different definitions of boring. When you pick up a book, you don’t necessarily want to read about something that you’ve read a thousand times, or something that you could have already thought about. Years ago, writers had the luxury of having time to introduce the characters and setting, but now, with all of the new distractions in the world, you need to pull in the reader. Fast.
Some of the agents I spoke to even said that they would rather have the cliche, gun to someone’s head, in the beginning of a story than some boring walkthrough of your character’s daily life. A reader wants something to happen, something that is different and is unique to your story.
For example, an agent named Sam Morgan recommended I read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The first words of chapter one in this book were “Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, wore white on the day he was to kill a king.”
When I read it, I was intrigued, even though I didn’t fully understand every word in the sentence until I had gotten through the chapter. Here’s something I just came up with:
I didn’t mean to push her off the cliff. It just kind of happened.
Okay, so if I read that, I would want to keep reading. In my mind I would be thinking WHATTT? Because you accidently pushes someone off of a cliff? That’s something that doesn’t happen everyday and would make me want to read more.
Of course, there are way better examples for this, but if you pick up any Bestseller or prize winner out of any bookstore, and read the first couple sentences, you’ll know what I mean.
Overall, though, just don’t give them a reason to put it down. Polish that first page until there isn’t a speck of dirt on it. That way they have no choice but to keep reading.
I hope this chapter helped you. Next week We’re going to be diving in to the details of the plot diagram, and how you can use it to enhance your plot.
A few updates on me and my writing: I’m going to be putting Holding My Breath back up on Wattpad and maybe this website, but I’m not quite sure when yet. Also, I have another novella I am planning to publish, and it will be available on amazon in print and ebook formats soon. And by soon, I’m not sure whether it will be in the fall, or this summer. I figured I should give you a warning about these upcoming projects, even if I don’t have exact dates yet.
As for the novella, the title and cover will be released on June 10, 2015 (or sooner), so keep a look out for that!
Thanks for the support everyone,