First pages are the WORST.
I, and many others not up to par in Pitch to Publication this year, relearned this hard fact as we scoured this year’s #p2p16 and #tenqueries Twitter feeds. However, the gracious P2P editors have not left us science fiction and fantasy writers without some awesome first page feedback!
7 THINGS GOOD SF&F (AND OTHER) FIRST PAGES HAVE:
IMMERSION IN THE WORLD.
The fantasy or sci-fi world of a story has to be a big part of its telling. When setting is seamlessly blended with exposition without over-explanation, the reader becomes immersed in the world, and everything else will ring truer for it.
Don’t merely describe the world. Make it a part of the actions that are occurring.
A NON-CONFUSING PRESENTATION.
Your reader cannot be confused, or you’ll lose them! Choose natural details that will heighten the clarity of your scene, and avoid too many expository details, which can overwhelm or tangle up the reader.
Have a friend go through the first pages and simply underline the places where they got confused. Work on them in chronological order. Do several rounds with different readers.
AN UNDERLYING SOMETHING.
Foreshadowing, a hint at theme, or just some additional thing to engage the reader on another level will help to reel them in.
Stand back from your book and consider its morals and themes. Create a word web with a theme at the middle. Make branches of major points that express that theme, and foreshadow those. Create a list of trigger words related to your theme, and use those trigger words in your text. As always, less is more; don’t be heavy-handed.
TENSION (AND ACTION IF POSSIBLE).
Always begin with an active scene. No sit-still conversation, dream-having, or rising-from-unconsciousness; there must be a struggle, an intrigue, a physical act that engages the main character. Even if your scene isn’t a gunfight, tension—a close cousin to action—must occur, or the reader will not be drawn in.
Intertwine character emotion with anything passive you are describing (and make sure the description is necessary!). You can also add foreshadowing; dialogue is a good way to do this, but don’t overdo it. A line or two can work.
INTERESTING MC AND STRONG SENSE OF VOICE.
Readers must get a good sense of your character and who they are, and they must care about them. The character should stand out in some way, not physically, but mentally.
Write out your main character’s mental features, perhaps using a word web or similar tool. Then, tailor every act that he/she performs in the first pages to indicate one of the traits.
AN AVERSION TO TROPES.
A character running from something. Someone stuck in a dream. A history-of-the-world prologue. All of these are tropes, and they’re boring.
Remove the tropes and see where that leaves you. You might be surprised what a good, heartless, soul-crushing cut can do. And if that really, truly doesn’t work—try giving the trope a solid, unmistakable twist.
A TIMELY START.
The beginning must occur in the right space in time. Commonly, manuscripts start too early in the story, but they can start too in-the-thick-of-things as well.
Jump to a later point in your manuscript. This can mean skipping the first paragraph, the first few pages, or even whole chapters. You could delete what came before (do this if possible), rearrange it, or feed it into later pages as backstory or flashbacks.
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