Most literary agents will tell you that they read the first several pages of your submission before they read your query. That’s essentially why the first several pages of your novel are the most important. You’ve got to grab your reader from the beginning to sell the story to an agent or publisher. On her blog, Agent in the Middle, 20-year veteran agent Lori Perkins said, “Your novel has to grab me by the first page, which is why we can reject you on one page.” The reason behind that theory is a survey that came out years ago that said a consumer will determine whether or not to buy a book based on the first paragraph or first page. This puts alot of pressure on the writer, so we’d like to do our part to help you through this.
A successful novel should begin using one of the following storylines:
Begin with something happening.
Begin with action in unusual circumstances.
Start with action that challenges the character.
Put your main character into jeopardy that pertains to story.
Here are three specific examples from some bestselling young adult fantasy authors:
The Prologue Intro
Stephenie Meyer started Twilight with a prologue. I will warn you against this because most agents who blog complain about the use of prologues. Nathan Bransford, highly respected literary agent for Curtis Brown wrote this on his blog: “The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense. If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Or, the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the back-story that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.” I think the point here is that you have to be careful when you use this method, because if you get it wrong, then it’s a very short trip to the rejection pile. You can read Mr. Bransford’s full article here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/prologues.html
The Action Sequence Intro
I say, start with an action. The action gets you right into the story. Donald Maass, agent icon and author of Writing a Breakout Novel said, “To hold our attention, a novel’s action needs to compel us to read every word.” I’m not saying add in some weird accident or shooting that doesn’t pertain to your story. I’m saying that if you have something magical that happens on page ten, that really gets the story going, then erase the first nine pages and begin there. Cassandra Clare started City of Bones with this type of beginning. She takes you into a nightclub where her main character witnesses a murder that only she can see. So immediately you want to know why she can see it and you want to know about the people committing the murder. In other words, you’re hooked!
The Dialogue Intro
This is where the dialogue between characters sets up the story. I’m talking about a conversation between relevant characters that sets the tone of the novel. And no, a conversation about the weather or favorite pets isn’t going to cut it. If your story is about a mysterious boy starting at school then maybe the conversation is between girls talking about the boy. If the main character has something happen on her birthday then maybe the story starts while she’s blowing out candles. Alyson Noel used this method when writing Evermore. By the end of the first page, you know that her main character has the ability to read minds, see auras, and is an outsider. Yet again, hooked.
For further help on the subject, try out: The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman
You can check out some of my other popular articles here: http://www.yafantasyguide.com/for-writers/index.htm