If there's anything agents like talking about, it's hooks and first pages. I saw this post over on PubRants today, where Agent Kristen Nelson shares what makes her stop reading a manuscript. Here are the culprits:
1. Telling instead of showing.For beginners, this is great advice. But for established writers, you can take it or leave it. Rules were meant to be broken. As long as you have a great voice, it doesn't really matter. However, some of these rules should be followed no matter what.
2. Including unnecessary back story.
3. Loose sentence structure that could easily be tightened
4. The use of passive sentence construction.
5. Awkward introduction of character appearance.
6. Awkward descriptions/overly flowery language to depict.
7. Starting the story in the wrong place.
8. Not quite nailing voice in the opening.
9. Dialog that didn’t quite work as hard as it should.
10. A lack of scene tension even if the opening was suppose to be dramatic.
Bottom line: It can't be boring.
These rules are for newbies who don't understand that the first page must be interesting. If it isn't....well, I'm not going to read on. And you can bet that an agent won't read on. If your critique partners say that your intro isn't quite working, go over this list. Maybe you need to trim something.
Here are some examples of first pages that work for me:
|Looking for Alaska by John Green|
|The Astonishing Adventure of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga|
|What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook|
Now I'll post the first page of my manuscript before I sent it to a critique partner. Then I'll post it after I took her advice. I'm not a great writer, but I think this is decent. You tell me which is better.
I'm first chair clarinet, I placed second in three regional piano recitals, and I used to play violin. Or course that isn't good enough for my mother, but it makes my dad proud. He hangs all of my awards in his office. They're right next to Zach's honor roll ribbons, his academic medals, and his national merit award.
I joined band in 10th grade. The first day, I sat in the back of the room. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I'd had private lessons my whole life, so I wasn't used to playing with other people. Everything would be ok if minded my own business.
I'd been sitting for no longer than two minutes, when a guy sat down right in front of me. He was a freshman. I'd seen him before, hanging out with Rachel. I'd overheard her telling my brother that he was annoying. She was right.
He stuck out a hand and said, “Shaun Lee. Are you Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese?”
I shook his hand. “I'm Japanese. My name is Joey. Joey Amasawa.”
“I thought you looked familiar. Are you related to Zach Amasawa? The one that dates Rachel Thomas?”
“They aren't dating. And yeah, he's my brother I guess.”
“I wish I had a twin. It must be fun right? You guys get to switch places and stuff. Play pranks on people. And you'd get to make-out with each others girlfriends. That has to be awesome.”
“I hate my brother.”
“Oh, just saying. It would be cool. You ever try to come on to his girlfriend. You think she'd notice?”
Can you tell the difference?