First Pages

The first line of a manuscript might be the most important one. If the agent isn’t hooked by it, chances are the story will end up in the slush pile. But catching an agents eye goes beyond the first line and into the paragraphs that follow. C. Lee McKenzie offers a series post on First Lines, with tips on what works and what to avoid (here, here, and here). Even though the contest is over now, Dawn Allen’s interview with Les Edgerton gives great advice on catching and keeping a reader’s interest.

Since I plan to participate in the Catch Me If You Can blogfest, I decided to put together a list of  quick tips for first pages:

  • Make sure the first line hooks readers and conveys the overall tone of the story.
  • Avoid backstory/flashbacks in the first pages, if possible.
  • Cliché opening scenes turn off agents and readers, so don’t write them. [Tips, tips, and just for fun, the submission guidelines for Strange Horizons (an online speculative fiction magazine) which list stories they see often. Confession: some of my stories fall into these categories, but I’ve tweaked them, and now they’re better.]
  • Introduce the main character and his/her goal as soon as possible, and in an interesting way.
  • Vanquish passive sentence structure.

What tips for first pages would you add to this list? 

12 comments on “First Pages

  1. lbdiamond says:

    Nice list–love the links!

    I’d only add: Do NOT start with a dream sequence or follow every minute detail of the character’s day–get to the action and stay with it. 😉

  2. Thanks for posting this.

    What do you think about beginning with a prologue, though? I’m about to start my second (unpublished) book, and am thinking that the only way I let my character know about certain things, and why it starts where it does, is if I do a prologue.

    • I personally don’t like prologues. I like to start with action and then keep a pretty steady pace. I wonder if there’s any way for you to determine the most important info and work it into the story in bits and pieces.

      If you read books like LA Bank’s Vampire Huntress series or Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series, you’ll see how their stories keep a tight pace while weaving in info readers need to know about setting, character motivation, plot…

      I say do what feels right to you for your story.

  3. Yay, links! Thank’s so much! I’m participating in Catch Me If You Can too, so I guess I’ll see your tips in action. 🙂

    ❤ Gina Blechman

  4. Trisha says:

    Great tips, thanks! 😀

    I’m doing that blogfest too – but hell, which one AREN’T I doing? hehe

  5. Ooh, fantastic tips! I think I’ve reworked my first chapter 13 times or so, ugh. But am getting happier with it 🙂



  6. kellyhashway says:

    I like books that get quickly into the action. That draws me in.

  7. tangynt says:

    I’m going to be participating in that one too. I think, so far, every blogfest I’ve found and plan to take part in–all of five–I’ve spotted on your blog first. You’re like my indirect inspiration! ^_^

  8. Donea Lee says:

    I just did a post about first chapters – this is some great advice! I’d add – don’t dwell too much on setting (long lists of descrip) anyhow, up front. 🙂 New follower and fellow crusader here just (finally) making the rounds. Happy Thursday!

  9. Akoss says:

    This is why first chapters get so much attention out of the writer. Now if only I can do the same for the entire manuscript… that would be wonderful.

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