This past Sunday I participated in The Toronto Writing Workshop. It was a well-organized event in which writers were able to pitch their manuscripts to twelve agents, as well as participate in a variety of different workshops. My favourite workshop was called “Writers’ Got Talent: A Chapter One Critique-Fest.” Writers were invited to enter the first page of their manuscripts into a lottery. Only 11 lucky first pages were pulled at random and then read (anonymously – no authors’ names given) in front of the audience of eager writers and the featured agents. During each reading, the agents would raise their hand at the point where they would stop reading the manuscript.
It was a nerve-wrecking process for all the brave writers who submitted their work to be reviewed; however, the rewards of this experience served all in the audience whether they submitted their work or not. The agents, as gatekeepers to the publishing industry, provided helpful insights as to why they raised their hands where they did in the reading. During this informative segment, I learned five key tips on how to make a successful first page in your manuscript.
#5 TOO SLOW
Action keeps the reader hooked in your story and nowhere is that more important than the first page of your manuscript. Most of the workshop agents agreed on one point in particular. “No exposition on weather, no waking up, or what your character looks like.” Description can slow the flow of the story, or even stop it. If including description, make it concise, one or two specific details, and allow the momentum of the story to move forward.
#4 STOP TALKING
Don’t start with dialogue. About two thirds of the agents raised their hands immediately whenever the story started with dialogue. Comments included: if the reader doesn’t know the character or context of the story, they aren’t invested in what is being said.
It is imperative to introduce a story-worthy problem to intrigue the reader and encourage them to keep turning the page. On the first page, second paragraph in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, she hints at the plot, “…we sometimes discuss the events leading to his [Jem’s] accident.” What’s your favourite novel? See if you can find a hint of the plot included on the first page.
#2 WORDS WORDS WORDS
With a Webster’s dictionary full of words, choose your words wisely. Make each word count. A word list of interesting and new words can be helpful so you don’t duplicate tired and overused ones. Word repetition can become annoying for the reader, particularly if the words are in close proximity. Keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum.
Your manuscript should be grammatically perfect. Errors show a sloppy disregard for the written craft. So double and triple check your full manuscript before submitting it for review with agents and/or editors. If grammar isn’t your thing, there are several grammar services available, which can vet your manuscript for a fee.
Thanks to The Toronto Writing Workshop. Participants were informed and inspired to view our first pages with a new perspective.