I’ve been reading a lot of first pages over the past couple of months. A lot, a lot, a lot. (My best guess is around 300, so while I am prone to exaggeration sometimes, when I say “a lot,” I mean it.) And here are some (made-up) examples of problems I see over and over. Look out for and avoid these mistakes on your first page before entering contests like QueryKombat.
Even in contests with a mentor round, like PitchWars, your first page should be polished and ready before you hit send.
Ex. 1: “Wait!” He says huridly, and walks toward me.
- One of those words is misspelled.
- There’s no need for a beat and a dialogue tag. Either show him walking or use the said, but not both.
- Adverbs are generally disfavored, especially in dialogue tags, but here it’s doubly unnecessary because you could just show him moving as if in a hurry.
- The comma doesn’t belong there.
Try: “Wait!” He rushed toward me.
- To be verbs are not all that interesting. They have a place, but try to limit them. Especially try not to use more than one in a single sentence.
- To be verbs are a sign of telling. Don’t tell us there’s a tree, show it.
- When linking two complete sentences with a conjunction, there should be a comma before the conjunction.
Ex. 3: Shane and Adam sat on the steps, looking out across the lawn. Angela watched them through slitted eyes, pretending to listen to her sister, Tina, chatter on about cheerleading. Under the trees, Barry and Lisa make out. Joan does backflips across the lawn, oblivious to it all. A scream cuts across the quad. Shane raises one hand lazily to his eyes as if he doesn’t care, but his heart races. Engrossed in their kissing, Barry and Lisa appear not to notice. But I know something is wrong.
- Raise your hand if you have any idea what’s going on in this scene, because I certainly don’t. I don’t know who these people are, who (if anyone) I’m supposed to care about, or why.
- Holy head-hopping, Batman!
- Wall of the text. White space is your friend. When new things happen, start a new paragraph.
Try: Focus on one character, at least on the first page. Give one point-of-view and let us see what that person is experiencing.
Ex. 4: As the light from the trees hits my eyes, my cell phone rings. I fumble for it in my pocket as I think about the day my mother died. The caller ID fills me with dread, as I blink away the tears brought on by my memory.
As, as, as. The word “as” is supposed to connect two things that have a direct correlation: cause and effect. The light hitting the main character in the eyes has nothing to do with the main character’s phone ringing. I feel like “as” is the default connector for a lot of new authors, but it’s also used incorrectly most of the time. (I found a really good article on this a while back, but I lost it – if anyone has the link, I’d love to see it).
These are just a few examples, but they help illustrate why it’s so important to get another set of eyes on your first page before querying or entering contests. Ask a friend to tell you what works, and what doesn’t. Take advantage of critique giveaways. Use contests hashtags to find someone to swap with (and if that first person isn’t right for you, find another. You’re not married to the first person you switch first pages with). The best way to improve is to use your resources.