A confession

Can I be honest here? I’m terrified of my first page.

I’ve never quite known what to do with it. I’ve played with where to start my story, changed it back and forth about a dozen times only to come back to where I stared. I want to be sure I get those first lines just right. I want to introduce the character, place him in the setting, hint at what it’s all about and get the reader curious about what’s to come.

No one had to tell me how important the first page is. I got it already. I got it each time I picked up a book in a store, opened it up to the first page, read a paragraph and set it back on the shelf.

But just in case there was still any question what was at stake, an experience last weekend cleared that up. At a writers’ conference, a panel of five or six agents read through the first pages of maybe twenty submitted works. Whenever any two agents raised their hand to indicate they wanted to stop, the reading was halted and the agents explained, in excruciating detail, everything that went wrong.

The young woman sitting next to me was brave enough to submit her first page (note: I was not). They read her submission, but stopped reading it after only a paragraph or so. The poor woman took it in stride, but there was no doubt the experience was harrowing one.

Here are some of the things the agents objected to that panel session:

  • Personification of inanimate objects
  • Writing is too vague
  • Characters too stereotypical
  • Too many genres in description (ie, a fantasy/horror/romance)
  • Cliché: character wakes up in the morning
  • Cliché: stomach in knots
  • Cliché: any mention of a heart
  • The main character is less interesting than other characters
  • The story is written for a young adult audience but doesn’t sound like it is coming from a young adult
  • Too many copy editing errors
  • No hints at what the story is supposed to be about by the bottom of the first page
  • No dialogue on the first page
  • First page is one big paragraph
  • Manuscript is described as literary fiction but doesn’t sound particularly literary

I’m sure were more. But this is enough.

I’m about to start editing that damn first page again. Thoughts and prayers.

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