Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Frightening First Page Fouls

For first page week in the Haunted Writing Clinic and Contest, I'd like to share the frightening first page mistakes that can make your worst nightmare come true...the agent or editor may stop reading.

Common first page mistakes:

1) Too many characters - I recommend introducing no more than two characters on page one (you could possibly get away with three, but probably not more). That includes people not in the scene that the characters mention. Too many characters introduced right away, confuses and frustrates a tired editor. Also be careful of introducing too many places and made-up words, especially in fantasy.

2) Poor orientation - That's sort of a fancy way of saying, "I have no clue what's going on here." On the  first page you want to use clear and specific imagery quickly so the reader can visualize the scene. It's not the place to introduce complicated concepts. Stick with dramatic, yet universally understandable details and images so the reader wastes no mental power trying to figure out what's going on and can focus completely on getting immersed in the story.

3) Being boring - Capturing the reader's attention is job one on a first page and pretty much everyone knows this universal rule, but I still run into some ho-hum first scenes. That doesn't mean your first scene has to include explosions, sex, and/or sword fights, but it should include:
-Some conflict or tension
-Interesting or unique details about the character and/or setting

4) Gimmicks and otherwise over-doing it - On other side of the coin, I see a lot of writers trying too hard to make first scenes exciting and it loses it's power. Here are some examples:
-Starting with a dream
-Making the reader think something scary is happening, but it really isn't
-Using a prologue to mask an otherwise ho-hum opening
-Overwrought voice, especially in YA - think overly sarcastic or cliche teens

5) Excessive descriptions of character's physical appearance - A few well placed details about a character's appearance can help with orientation, but these details should flow organically with the narrative. The first page is not the place to take the reader out of the story to describe the physical attributes of your character in detail.

6) Unlikable characters - We have to care about what happens to your character even if you're writing about a serial killer. Make sure you're not turning off your reader right away by showing off their most annoying attributes. I won't name names, but I have stopped reading books on page one because I knew right away that I didn't want to spend a whole book with the annoying MC.

7) Outside of MC's POV - Nothing confuses faster than starting your story in any POV other than the MC from your query. Even if you have multiple POVs in your novel, start with whoever started your query.

8) Telling, passive voice, grammar mistakes, typos, too many adjectives and adverbs - These sorts of things should be edited out of your writing as much as possible anyway, but you're more likely to get away with it on page 100 than page 1. Your first page should showcase your best writing and we assume you've edited and revised it carefully. If you screw up here, an agent and editor will assume that the rest of your book contains even more screw ups.

In summary, here is what you should do:

1) Use concrete, compelling imagery
2) Keep it simple. Any time your reader is trying to figure out what's going on in a scene, they're being taken out of the story.
4) Be interesting. Include conflict, voice, and interesting details.
5) Have the reader invest in the character by showing off their heroic or sympathetic attributes. Even antiheroes need to be likable enough for us to care what happens to them.
6) Revise and edit. Make sure you get lots of critique from people you can trust to be honest. (preaching to the choir here!)

Tomorrow I'll be posting my first page! Come back and tell me if I followed all my own rules. :)

More super villains:
James Wymore - Dark Brain, master of hypnosis, seeking Darkling minions

Court Young - The House of Gaunt (pure bloods only)

Dawna Raver - The Mystical Masters

Gerilyn Marin - The Phantom Court

Thea Gregory - The Zombie Culinary Institute

Mike Robinson - The Mighty Minotaurs of Metaphysics

Krystal Wade - Frankenstein's Laboratory

The Criminal Masterminds


  1. Great advice. After reading this post I feel like I need to look at my first page, again! I might need to work on #2. hmmm

    Btw, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on my first page. New follower here! *waves*

  2. A very helpful list! I don't think I broke TOO many of the rules with mine . . . *shifty eyes*

  3. Great post! Thanks for the tips. I think I may have fallen into trap number one - I mention too many characters.

  4. My blog was given an award and I am passing it on to you (and ten other blogs).

    Go to to read about it. You don't have to do anything, but if you want, you can answer the 11 questions on your own blog and recommend another 11 blogs. You can also copy and paste the "Liebster" award from my blog and paste it onto your own.

    That's it. No prize money or anything. Just some "props" for having a nice bog.

    Craig Schmidt

  5. valuable advice!! i'm advertising it on monday! thanks!

    and ps, i am joining you at curiosity quills!! woo hoo!

  6. Great advice. I'm re - writing now! Gosh, did I spell that right?

  7. Excellent post, Sharon. I'm tweeting this. :)