Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Is a First page?

 by Joan Y. Edwards

The first page is not to be mixed up with the Title Page, Copyright page, or Dedication page.
What is a first page?
red horeshoe magnet
  • A first page is the magnet that brings a reader in.
  • It's the hook that brings your reader into your story and keeps him there.
  • It's the grabber that yanks him with words and emotion so strong that he can't set himself free, until the problem is solved at the end of the book.
  • It's the trap that holds readers inside the pages of the book.
  • It's the enticement to stay a little longer in this make-believe world
  • It sells the rest of your manuscript
At the most, depending upon the genre, a first page double-spaced could be 250 words.
What does the First Page Do?
What makes a great first page? It tells who, what, when, where, and why should I care? Hmm. You say. That sounds like the same thing that should be in a pitch. Yes. You're right.  I venture to say that each page in a book should contain something about leading up to the solution of the problem or the making it worse.
A first page hints of the dilemma facing the main character.
Tells the inner and outer conflict of the main character.
Tells the setting.
Tells the time. When you read it, you know by the first page whether it is 100 years ago or sometime in the same century as you.
Why should the reader care? It pulls you in with emotions that a reader can identify with.
Just for comparison and enlightenment: Let's look at the first pages of three of your favorite top-selling books in the genre you have chosen to write in.
You get your books in front of you or go to the Amazon link to its first page.
What must a first page have? A main character, setting, time, goal, and obstacle/opposing force/villain.
Wait. That's not all. On this first page you must also give emotional pull on the reader that shows him why he should care.
Look at 3 first pages. Have the books open to the first page or click on Amazon where they show you the first page of this best-selling book.
Print out the first page of the manuscript you're ready to send off to a critique group, editor, or agent.
Look at the first page of the story  in Chapter One. Look for the things a first page has:
  • Main character
  • Setting
  • Time
  • Goal
  • Obstacle
  • Emotional pull (Why Should I Care? Universal Emotion)
Chances are they've given you hints of the major problem in the story. What's at stake for the main character? Life? Death? Success? Fame? Fortune?
Does your first page have Pizzazz? Raise curiosity in the reader?
Can your readers relate to the main character? Feel for him? Cheer for him? Be scared with him? Cry with him?
If your manuscript lacks this emotional tug at the heartstrings of your reader, add it. When an agent or editor can't get your character out of their heads is when you have them, hook, line, and sinker!
Good luck with your publishing dreams. Keep unwavering faith in you and your stories.


  1. Allie Bates in a comment on Facebook caught something I missed. Here are the comments copied from the link on FB:

    Allie Bates: Disagree with telling who what where, etc. That's journalism, not fiction. The fiction first page does NOT tell you wo what where.... It should only make you want to know who what where when why and especially how. Otherwise, you gave away the farm.

    Janie Franz: Short story writing often does lay out a lot in the first page because it's so short. But, Allie, you're right. The first page of a novel just spark questions that keep you reading.

    Vivian Zabel: Uh-oh, that's what I get for skimming rather than reading. Ish. Allie, you are so right (write, right).

    Allie Bates: I cut my teeth on short stories. In a short story, the hook is not the first page. It almost always the first sentence, or living somewhere in the first paragraph. Glimmer Train back cover is the best for high octane hooks:

  2. Thanks for responding. It's good to get different viewpoints. The first pages of best sellers and classic short stories speak for themselves.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  3. Thanks for telling me Allie Bates and Janie Franz take on First Pages.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  4. Joan,
    Thanks for the post. It appears that the first page needs to darn good even if people don't agree what it must contain.

  5. Joan,
    That word is d-a-r-n, really.

  6. Dear Linda,
    You're welcome for the post. You're right the first page needs to be really good. Writers know from personal experience that all agents,editors, and readers agree universally on some things, however, they have their own personal takes that make them say "AHHHHHHHHHH YES. This ones for me." It's sort of like Goldilocks. When they read it they say, "This ones too hot, this one's too cold, and THIS ONE IS JUSSSSST RIGHT." Thanks for writing. Find the first page that works for you!

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  7. Dear Linda,
    Thanks for clarifying your comment. You are right, our first pages need to be surprising and unforgettable! Enjoy writing that first page!

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  8. Joan, thanks for sharing. First pages are essential to keep the reader reading.

  9. Dear Karen,
    You're welcome for my sharing. It was a pleasure. You're right, if we don't get the reader at page one, we may have lost them forever. Do something fun to celebrate you today.

    Joan Y. Edwards