Drawing In An Agent From The First Page

Here’s is yet another installment of what I learned while attending the James River Writer’s Conference back in October.

This is one aspect of the conference that I truly look forward to every year! The First Pages critique is when a panel of agents listens to the first page of submitted stories and offers critiques and impressions to the audience.

I will post their overall advice below, in no specific order.

  • I think it’s helpful to get the obvious stuff out the way first: don’t start with weather or scenery, show don’t tell, save backstory for later.
    • Start with the meat of your story. What critical event is happening in your MC’s life that catapults us into the story.
  • Introduce MC before you hurt them. If the agent (reader) doesn’t know your character, it’s hard to care about them if they get hurt, especially in Sci-fi and Fantasy, as the action tends to develop quicker.
  • Be careful about using an opening sentence that’s too provocative, because agents don’t know exactly what’s happening, and giving the wrong impression may be a turn-off.
    • Ex: The First Page that incited this response contained a scene with a man standing over a crying baby. There was blood on the sheets. It gave the initial impression that the man was hurting an infant in a hospital. The agents said it made them a little queasy, until they realized the man was a good guy and was actually using his powers to draw an illness out of the baby to save its life. They warned against using this sort of opening, as they were not inclined to finish the page because who wants to read about a baby-killer?…
  • Be cautious about addressing the reader. It pulls the reader out of the world you’ve created. It’s jarring and annoying. In case you don’t know what I mean. They’re talking about when someone goes: “Keep reading my story to find out what happens next.”
  • Don’t use too many characters or POVs, it can be confusing for the reader. Establish MC right away so the reader knows who they’re following and who’s most important.
  • Edit out redundancies. Don’t let the dialogue and sentences repeat each other.
    • Ex: There was a red apple on the table. Janet said, “Pass me that red apple on the table.” Or: She listened with her ears. (We all know she listened with her ears, you only need to specify what she listened with if it is not her ears.)


Something else to remember: You can’t please everyone. The agents liked different aspects of each page, but the points above were generally agreed upon by the whole panel.



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