When I finish my current novel and begin querying agents, I want them to ask me for the first few chapters – or better yet, the entire manuscript. Either way I’m posed with the same challenge. I have to get them past the first page.
The First Page – What Agents Want to See
- Start with Activity – The Intern at In the Inbox suggests starting with activity because, “Manuscripts lose the reader’s attention when they start in characters’ heads. Frustration, anger, and apathy are week beginnings.”
Don’t tell the reader what’s happening. Show them by the activity taking place on that first page. If you feel you have to start with an internal monologue, then maybe it’s time to rethink the starting point of your novel.
- To Prologue or Not to Prologue – The prologue takes place before your story begins. Sometimes the author puts the prologue in italics to distinguish it from the rest of the novel.
Although there are some books that use a prologue and are better for it (Orphan Train, Water for Elephants, and The Lovely Bones come to mind), Elmore Leonard suggests avoiding them. He calls them annoying back story and claims the writer can drop the information in wherever they want.
- Create a Well-Balanced Opening Scene – The opening scene should combine the right amounts of tension, setting, and action to cause the reader to want to turn to Page 2. In a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog, Darcy Patterson, the author of Start your Novel, says:
The first pages of a novel encapsulate much of the story and are extremely important in establishing setting, character, pace, audience, tone, and voice. First pages give readers a door knob to turn, an opening to the whole story. Editors are sophisticated, critical readers, and they immediately pick up on missteps such as the following.
Holding back too much information can cause confusion for the person reading your book. Giving too much information is akin to giving someone a spoiler alert to how a movie ends before the previews finish playing.
Now It’s My Turn
Here are the first few paragraphs from my work in progress.
“A funeral home?” Harriet McConnell exclaimed. She paced the length of the galley kitchen in her ranch-style home, a route that took about eight steps in either direction. “Why would my brother die and leave you a funeral home?”
Joe slouched into one of the two chairs on either side of the table in the adjoining dining area with a shrug. He laid his hand on the table’s Formica top and stressed, “I swear, Ma. I dunno why he’d leave me his funeral home.”
“A funeral home,” she repeated. “I know he was single and didn’t have any kids, but I figured he’d leave it to one of his charities. Or maybe your… well, never mind that.”
“Or maybe my what? Wait. He supported charities?” Joe tilted his head. “When did he do that? After Grandma and Grandpa’s funeral? Was that why after they died you told me he was too busy to come to my birthday parties?”
Joe vaguely recalled his uncle’s presence in his early life, but truth be told, until the lawyer’s office called he’d nearly forgotten the man existed. The news of an inheritance surprised Joe as much as it did his mother.
“What’ll you do with it? Oh Joey, you can’t keep it. You know that, right? Just think of all the corpses that passed through the place. And worse things. Oh, Joey.” Harriet punctuated her words with a shudder, avoiding her son’s earlier question. Turning to face him she asked, “You’re not going to keep it, are you?”
What do you think? Without hearing the elevator pitch, does it make you want to know more?