resized

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

The challenge: does this narrative compel you to turn the page?

Storytelling Checklist

While it’s not a requirement that all of these 6 storytelling ingredients be on the first page, I think writers have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing, a given for every page.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Let’s flog the first pages of this bigtime bestselling author’s new novel.

This novel was in first place on the New York Times hardcover bestseller lists for March 16. Let’s see just how strong the opening page is—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Do you think it’s compelling? Following is what would be the first manuscript page (17 lines) of Chapter 1.

How does the man make checkered shirts and pastels look good? I thought as Trent lined up his drive, head down and feet shifting, looking oddly appealing outside of the suit and tie I usually saw him in. The rest of his team and their caddies were watching him as well, but I doubted they were rating the way his shoulders pulled the soft fabric, or how the sun shone through his almost translucent blond hair drifting about his ears, or how the shadows made his slim waist look even trimmer, unhidden beneath a suit coat for a change. I found myself holding my breath as he coiled up, exhaling as he untwisted and the flat of the club hit the ball with a ping.

“Yeah, the elf looks good in the sun,” Jenks smart-mouthed, the pixy currently sitting on the bottom of my hooped earrings and out of the moderate wind. “When you going to put us all out of your misery and boink him?”

“Don’t start with me.” With a hand held up to shade my eyes, I watched the ball begin to descend.

“All I’m saying is you’ve been dating him for three months. Most guys you date are either dead or running scared by now.”

The ball hit with an audible thump, rolling onto the par-three green. Something in me fluttered at Trent’s pleased smile as he squinted in the sun. Damn it, I’m not doing this. “I’m not dating him, I’m working his security,” I muttered.


My vote and editorial notes after the fold.

The Undead PoolDid you recognize Kim Harrison and her newest, The Undead Pool, a venture into the dark urban fantasy genre?

My vote: Yes.

Strong, likeable voice and the second paragraph that immersed me into an interesting world did the job for me. However, the next page had better get something going other than a golf game and admiring thoughts about an elven hunk if the author wants to keep me turning the page. The writing is nicely clean (though I’d edit out “audible” in the last paragraph—not necessary.)

Your thoughts? If this weren’t the 12th novel in a successful series, The Hollows, would you have turned the page?

If you’d like to help beginning novelists with your constructive criticism, join me on Wednesdays and Fridays for floggings at my site, Flogging the Quill.

About Ray Rhamey

Ray Rhamey is the author of five novels and one craft book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. He's also an editor who has recently expanded his creative services to include book cover and interior design. His website, crrreative.com, offers an a la carte menu of creative services for self-publishers and Indie authors. Learn more about Ray's fiction at rayrhamey.com.