Since we have no work to flog today, it’s a good time for a cautionary post about what is—and is not—contained in your first page. When a potential reader is browsing your first page in a bookstore or on a web page, the kinds of things we look at on FtQ are what affect their page-turning decision. As you’ve seen in many of the submissions here, a lack of some things—particularly a strong story question—is what triggers putting the book down.
But when you’re submitting work to an agent, there are more red flags that catch the eye and spark the ire of a pro who sees so much writing. One of your goals being to stand out from the flood, having an agent think “oh, that again” is to be avoided.
Jane Friedman, in a seminar on How to Get Published, pointed out many ways of beginning a story that are red flags for an agent. Her list included:
- No clearly defined protagonist (or no one we’re interested in or can immediately identify with)
- Immediate flashback
- Too much explanation/setup
- Phone or alarm waking somebody up
- Interior monologue/just thinkin’
- Ordinary day stuff—getting up in the morning, having coffee, driving to work—want something fresh
- Stereotypical “big event” such as a funeral, graduation, or the big game (common)
The point is not that you can’t open a story with any of those things, and you can if you make it dramatic enough, I suppose, it’s just that you might be triggering an almost reflexive rejection of the scene in an agent. Or, worse, being consigned to the bin of “that’s a tired old horse, I don’t think I want to ride it.” For literary agents, “fresh” is a key component of any first page that will capture their interest.
For what it's worth.
© 2016 Ray Rhamey