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?
Evaluate this opening page for how well it executes these 6 vital storytelling elements. While it’s not a requirement that all of them must 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)
Let’s Flog The Hit by David Baldacci
David Baldacci’s new thriller was in first place on the New York Times paperback bestseller list for October 6. Let’s see just how thrilling the opening page is—would this have hooked an agent if it came in from an unpublished writer? Following is what would be the first manuscript page (17 lines) of Chapter 1 in The Hit.
Feeling energized by the death that was about to happen, Doug Jacobs adjusted his headset and brightened his computer screen. The picture was now crystal clear, almost as if he were there.
But he thanked God he wasn’t.
There was thousands of miles away, but one couldn’t tell that by looking at the screen. They couldn’t pay him enough to be there. Besides, many people were far better suited for that job. He would be communicating shortly with one of them.
Jacobs briefly glanced around the four walls and the one window of his office in the sunny Washington, D.C., neighborhood. It was an ordinary-looking low-rise brick building set in a mixed-use neighborhood that also contained historical homes in various states of either decay or restoration. But some parts of Jacobs’s building were not ordinary at all. These elements included a heavy-gauge steel gate out front with a high fence around the perimeter of the property. Armed sentries patrolled the interior halls and surveillance cameras monitored the exterior. But there was nothing on the outside to clue anyone in to what was happening on the inside.
And a lot was happening on the inside.
Jacobs picked up his mug of fresh coffee, into which he had just poured three sugar (snip)
My vote and editorial notes after the fold.