Your novel’s first page is arguably its most important. Around 90% of stories are rejected by agents and publishers before they reach the end of the first page, so it’s crucial to craft an engaging, well-written and compelling first page. Here are the 6 crucial elements of a great first page.
1. Correct English.
Nothing says ‘I don’t know how to write’ quite like a slew of spelling errors and grammatical gaffes. It isn’t acceptable to have any spelling errors on your first page, and if an editor finds one you’ll be hit with the rock of instant rejection.
To avoid this mistake, proofread and edit. Gain objectivity by changing your font, or by reading out loud.
2. An Introduction to the Main Character:
Your compelling protagonist is the reason we’re reading your story. If you don’t start the story with the protagonist (and start with a flithy prologue instead), it shows readers you lack confidence in your MC’s interestingness (boy, that’s a long word).
3. Reason(s) to Care about the Main Character:
Your main character doesn’t have to be likeable. They don’t have to be nice. But there has to be something about them that makes readers care about their struggles. The easiest way to do this is to show how the protagonist’s life sucks. For example, Harry Potter opens with Harry being bullied by his abusive Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. This creates instant sympathy, making readers care about Harry’s future struggles.
Creating a ‘reason to care’ doesn’t have to be as blunt as showing your protagonist’s poverty, low social standing, etc. It can be more subtle: a niggling lack in your protagonist’s life. For instance, in The Great Gatsby, Gatsby has money, power and a wide circle of ‘friends’, but lacks the love of Daisy, the one thing he truly desires.
Conflict is the lifeblood of storytelling, and it must begin on page 1. I’m not suggesting you should begin with a car chase, gunfights and obligatory explosions, but you do need a level of tension. The stakes don’t have to be major. It can (and probably should) be something low-level like simmering resentment between siblings or mutual annoyance between work collegues. The key point is that the kettle that is your story’s tension must already be simmering when readers arrive – it’s rude to make them wait.
5. Establishment of Setting
Resist the tempatation to go overboard with world-building in your opening page (not one cares about your protagonist’s intricate family tree!), but do provide enough details to ensure readers know the time, location and atmosphere of the story (i.e. contemporary; a city; light-hearted).
6. It Makes you Want to Keep Reading
Above all, this is the most crucial element of a good first page – you need to make readers invested enough to continue to page two. Character is key to doing this. Get readers invested in your characters and they’re likely to want to see what happens to them.
As I said in the intro, your first page is your most important. It’s your chance to grab readers and yank them into the world of your story. Seize this opportunity and craft a compelling, gripping start to your novel.
What are your thoughts on first pages? What other crucial elements of a good first page have I left off the list? Do you have a great tip for avoiding rejection on page 1? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Photo credit: tableatny via VisualHunt / CC BY