GRAB THE READER'S ATTENTION AND DO NOT LET GO!!!
Enough said, I think.
But seriously, it pays to place a lot of importance on how you write the first page of your book. Obviously, the rest of the manuscript has to hold up as well. But...if you don't capture the agent's/editor's attention right at the start, the rest of the manuscript may not even get read. Read Mary Kole's awesome post on Beginnings if you're not convinced!
Consider your opening scene. Is it gripping? Compelling? Does something happen? Do the first 250 words give a good idea of the voice of your main character? Of your writing voice?
Here's a useful exercise for you:
- open a new word document
- copy the first 250 words (no more, no less) of your manuscript into the new document and save
- let the passage sit unopened for a few days, a week (or longer) if possible
- open the document and read the passage in complete isolation from the rest of your manuscript. Pretend you're reading it for the first time in a bookstore while you wonder if you can justify another charge to the credit card and if this is the book you'll charge
- does the passage grab your interest? Be honest. Be objective. Would you turn the page?
- consider the contents of your opening passage. Is your MC mentioned? Do we hear the MC's voice? Does something happen or are we just reading about the MC thinking, reading, sitting on the toilet, looking out a window, or any other passive (and possibly boring) action? Is the scene set-up so long that the reader still won't know what is happening by the end of the first page?
- now for the big question - have you opened with a cliche? There are some great websites out there on first chapter and opening scene cliches (too many to mention). Google them and have a good read. Unfortunately, many agents will assume that if your opening scene/page is cliche-ridden (for want of a better phrase), the rest of your manuscript may be built on cliches as well. Why give them a reason to reject your work before they even turn to the manuscript's second page?
- once you're completely happy with your opening page, give it to your critique partner(s) to read as well
- listen to their comments. Apply
- do a happy dance, then repeat steps 1-10 all over again!
How about you: how important is the beginning of your manuscript for you?