First Page Tips from the Pros

Last week, I outlined the notes on VOICE from the speakers at the SCBWI Florida summer conference. The other thing they spoke a lot about was…

FIRST PAGES

They spent a lot of time on first page critiques, reading each page aloud and commenting on what intrigued them, what needed work, which areas were confusing, and lines or phrases that appealed to them. Because the dreaded first page deprives all of us of sleep from time to time, here, in no particular order, are the tidbits I gleaned:

  • Nothing should be explained. Think of your characters as puppets whose strings you’re pulling. Erase the strings so the reader can’t see them.
  • Make sure that your characters are reacting to the scene/events, as opposed to the events being reported by you, the author
  • As interesting as settings are, people aren’t drawn to them. They’re drawn to characters. So don’t let the setting overpower them or the overall story
  • If you’ve got a great line or phrase somewhere on the first page, juggle the content so that line comes last on the page.
  • Description: if the reader will assume it, don’t describe it. This typically applies to hair color, furniture arrangement, etc. If you have to describe physical appearances, make them short and sweet–5 or six words, half a sentence.
  • In historical fiction/dystopian/fantasy: authors feel the need to anchor the reader in the unfamiliar world, but remember that descriptions on the first page have to be prioritized. Every detail on the first page should also tell about the character. Quality of writing is important, but so is quality of information.
  • Any physical activity that your character does, go and do yourself. Ride a helicopter, shoot a slingshot, walk in stilettos. Make sure your writing is authentic.
  • Physically walk through your scene. If it comes off clumsy in your living room, it will be even clumsier on the page.
  • Keep in mind the page visual. White space is inviting, long narrative blocks are daunting. Vary your sentence structure with this in mind.

I’m always fascinated to hear knowledgeable people read and discuss first pages because they’re able to pick out what’s wrong right off. Most of us still on the journey to publication (and a lot who’ve already reached that goal) still have the blinders on and can’t always see what’s wrong, so I find this information helpful. Maybe with these tips, we’ll all be one or two steps closer to getting that all-important first page right!

About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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60 Responses to First Page Tips from the Pros

  1. This is a brief but comprehensive list. Thanks for posting them. I’ve them pinned up in my writing space already 😉

  2. Scifi Worlds says:

    Great tips! Thanks!

  3. A.G. Wright says:

    Great post! Enticing first pages are crucial. It’s what keeps our readers turning the pages.

  4. Leslie Rose says:

    This post is golden. It’s a treasure map for a good first page. Thank you, thank you. Going to bookmark.

  5. Great tips! Thanks for always putting up great posts. 🙂

  6. First pages are tough, but these are great tips, Becca. Thank you so much.

  7. Becca and Angela, you guys never let me down with your writing tips!

  8. Paul Greci says:

    Great first page tips. Thanks!! I am a big fan of acting things out to see how they feel and doing the hands-on research when I can.

  9. Those are great tips! Thanks Angela.

  10. I particularly like the advice about not letting the setting overtake the character in the first page. I really don’t like setting description upfront. I’d rather get to know the characters.

  11. “Every detail on the first page should also tell about the character.”

    Great advice! I’m going to print that and put it up right next to my computer screen.

  12. Becca, thanks for your answer. I guess you are right about the first three chapters, but with a memoir written in first person, I’d love the agent to see a more adult Heather, my first few chapters are ages 7 and up.

    Heather

  13. Damyanti says:

    I’m going to print this out.. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Thanks for sharing these tips. They are all great. I’ll be starting a new first page soon and will keep them in mind.

  15. Heather, I think the first goal is to get that first page as good as it can possibly be because when you send a submission to an agent or editor, they may not get past that first page if it’s not good enough. But I’ve heard editors say that they can tell when an author has spent a disproportionate amount of time polishing the first page because the writing on the pages that follow don’t measure up. So to answer your question, if we can make the first page THAT fabulous, I think we should strive for the same level of fabulous on the other pages, too.

    And for your second question, it’s been my experience that you should always send the first 3 (or however many) chapters in the order they appear in your novel.

  16. I LOVE this! Thanks so much for sharing, Becca. 🙂

  17. Thanks for those first page hints. What I wonder though, is with the focus on first pages, if later pages suffer?

    I have a question for you. With sample chapters, when requested, if your book has three separate parts, is it feasible to send one chapter from each part or do they want the first few?

    Thanks,
    Heather

  18. Great post! Thank you for sharing.

  19. SP Sipal says:

    Great points! I know an other who literally gagged herself with duct tape so that she would know how her character felt. 🙂

  20. Videkov says:

    Great advice. You and Angela always put great nuggets of wisdom out there for us to consume. Thanks again for this website.

  21. Great advice!! I’ve picked up on a few things I need to adjust in my beginning. Here’s hoping it pays off!!

  22. Reading tips like these make me want to write a book. The more I hints I read about it, the less mysterious, and the more possible, it gets…thanks for sharing this.

  23. As so many others have already stated, this is a great gold kernel of wisdom! You have my utmost appreciation for sharing this with us all.

    I especially need to take the “assume, don’t describe” aspect to heart.

  24. jmcmurray says:

    Excellent post. This is the kind of information that more people need to learn. Thank you very much.

  25. Welcome, Rosalind! And thanks, Bish, for pointing her our way 🙂

  26. Stacy says:

    Great tips. My critique partner has opened my eyes on walking through the scene and making sure I don’t have body parts gone wild, lol.

    And thanks for the reminder that characters are more important than setting. It’s so easy to want to lay out exactly where they are and forget about who the characters are supposed to be.

  27. Brilliant advice. I’ve come visiting via Bish’s blog so I’m new to this place.

    http://rosalindadam.blogspot.com

  28. Hmm… I can just imagine myself acting out in my living room the first scene where my character gets stabbed and falls overboard….
    This should be fun!
    Great post, very helpful. 😀

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