I've been coaching writers with their pitches, including their query letter & synopsis but the truth is if you don't have killer opening pages your pitch can be the best thing ever written and you will still be rejected. This is a fact.
That's because the job of the first page is to hook the reader in and we need to know these things:
WHO the story is about
The PROMISE of the story--what will happen/what it's about
WHAT the problem is
Yup, all of that on the first page, and if you can set that up in the first sentence even better.
There are many ways to do this well and many ways to screw it up.
As well, there is also how we are writing-first, second (rarely used), and the third person.
For this week, I'm talking about mistakes that writers make when writing in the first person because this is what I see all the time coaching writers.
1. Starting every sentence, or many of them, with "I"
Examples of this are writing I saw this or that. I feel this way. I am going to do this. I'm sitting. I'm doing. Etc. You get the point.
2. Telling vs showing. Coming from above. Telling the reader everything instead of inviting them into the journey with you.
3. Too much narrative instead of action and dialogue.
These are the three most common that I see all the time. Heck, I've even done them myself and was truly embarrassed when an agent told me why she rejected me--because I used "I" too much. I thought, no I didn't, and then...I read my pages and couldn't unsee it!
Some examples of great first pages are.
WE WERE LIARS (YA) E, Lockhart
WELCOME TO THE beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure. The Sinclairs are athletic, tall, and handsome. We are old-money Democrats. Our smiles are wide, our chins square, and our tennis serves aggressive. It doesn't matter if divorce shreds the muscles of our hearts so that they will hardly beat without a struggle. It doesn't matter if trust-fund money is running out; if credit card bills go unpaid on the kitchen counter. It doesn't matter if there's a cluster of pill bottles on the bedside table. It doesn't matter if one of us is desperately, desperately in love. So much in love that equally desperate measures must be taken. We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (YA) John Green
Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.) But my mom believed I required treatment, so she took me to see my Regular Doctor Jim, who agreed that I was veritably swimming in a paralyzing and totally clinical depression and that therefore my meds should be adjusted and also I should attend a weekly Support Group.
Both of these are excellent examples of how to open a book in the first person.
The first one paints a very real picture of how things are in her world and she herself is a liar which shows us that she lives in a world that is expected to be perfect. It's chilling in a way.
In TFIOS Hazel shows the reader how she is feeling about the situation without saying "I hate this or that" or "I feel this way." A weaker way to open this book would have been to say something like "I hate winter and I hate having cancer, it sucks. I really don't like that my mom thinks that I'm depressed." or something like that.
The authors of both of these books really stand out for amazing first-person openers!
If you haven't read them, I strongly suggest that you do!