We've heard it many times: The first page of your manuscript has to grab the reader's attention.
How do we do that? Julie Romeis of Bloomsbury USA Children's Books shared her thoughts on this during our retreat's first lecture, "Goin' Fishin': How to Hook Your Reader."
Julie started out by sharing some of her favorite first pages, including Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," Louis Sachar's "Holes" and Rick Yancey's "The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp."
Next, she shared several manuscripts rejected based on their first few pages, showing us (not merely telling us!) the difference between what works and what doesn't.
Editors read thousands of manuscripts every year, so the bar is set pretty high. Here are some ways you can make your first page stand out:
1. Start with the unusual. If your story starts with a kid's alarm going off on a Monday morning, take my advice: Change it. Your story needs to start when the action begins, where the conflict kicks off. It needs to shine, shimmer and move in interesting ways to catch your reader's attention and entice them to chase the bait.
2. Raise questions. Too often we want our readers to know everything we know about our characters, our setting, our backstory. But if we fill them up right away rather than give them reasons to be curious, there's no reason for them to chomp down on the hook.
3. Bring on the tension. No one wants to read a story about happy, carefree people. Without tension, you have no story. And without tension on the first page, you can't reel in your reader. Note that the tension need not be overt ... it can be implied ... but it must appear right away.
What are some of your favorite first pages? Does the first page of your manuscript hook the reader?