The First Page of a Novel is the Most Important
The first page of a novel is like a job interview with potential readers. It is where agents, publishers, and readers form their first impressions of the work, and often where they decide whether to read on. Agents and publishers read submitted manuscripts all day every working day, and are most likely to notice opening pages that stand out. Although a dynamite first page won’t ensure success if it’s all downhill from there, a weak one can ensure that readers go no further.
One obvious thing that readers notice on the first page is the writing style, which basically means how well the author writes. Even if a novelist has constructed a great story, many people are likely to lose interest if the writing is dull or, worse, irritating. Many novice writers mistakenly equate fanciness with good writing. It’s best before beginning to study a good style manual, such as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style,” and learn to avoid such pitfalls as overwriting, clichés, overreliance on modifiers, using vague abstractions, lack of clarity and conciseness, and the passive voice. A vigorous style is likely to result in a distinctive voice that captures readers’ attention and imaginations, draws them in, and makes the work stand out.
Where to Begin
Although it certainly isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, it’s usually best to begin at a point involving crisis, change, and conflict. This does not necessarily mean explosive physical violence or even activity, and can involve such crises as those involving embarrassment, discovery, shamefulness, or a surprise encounter. The creation of a mystery or the sense of something unresolved can intrigue readers and compel them to be curious about its solution or resolution. Novels should begin with a nearly limitless amount of possibilities.
It’s important on the first page to present a strongly intriguing character who captures a readers’ interest, and also to establish at least a sense of the story’s position in regard to place, time, and mood without becoming bogged down in long and tedious descriptions. It’s a balancing act between giving readers too much information and action and not enough.
Picture: Marcel Mooij