2015 FIRST PAGE READ – SOME THOUGHTS
This year, we continued our tradition of holding the First Page Read at the 2015 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. This contest is a way to raise funds for the scholarship program.
Each contestant submits a first page of one of their stories along with $5. It can be from a novel or short story. During lunch and dinner on Friday, we take an hour to hold the contest. The panel of four or maybe five judges, which consist of agents and publishers sit up front and pick random numbers from each pre-numbered entry.
The idea is for our excellent reader, usually Janelle Evans to start reading the first page. The agents/publishers raise their hands at the point where they’d stop reading. If Janelle gets all the way though to the bottom of the page, that usually means the author either did a reasonable job or, the judges just wanted to find out if anything was going to happen.
If they all raise their hands before she stops reading, well…
The pages are not read with titles or names, so the authors are not embarrassed unless they have such a unique style and everyone knows who it is. Since most of us are experienced writers, we’re tough enough to take it if the panel doesn’t get to the end of the page.
I say this because the reaction from the panel could sometimes be considered rather harsh to the uninitiated, though that’s not their intent.
MY INITIAL FEELINGS ON FIRST-PAGE READS
I’ve voiced my opinion about this before and it hasn’t changed. As a reader, I’ve never judged a story by the first page. I think it’s quite shallow to judge a story on just a few words and in a way think it sends the wrong message.
Within the high-pressure world of agents and publishers, receiving literally (ha ha) thousands of manuscripts a month, they have to read quick and dirty and when they see the usual amateurish mistakes within the first few words, that sends up a red flag.
In that respect, wait until you’re an established author to go back to the amateurish mistakes. NOT!
There were some good things of note that came from the panel and their observations. This year especially, I had to agree with them on the ones I present below.
POINT OF VIEW – OMNISCIENT IS BAD
To a one, they all said the same thing. The omniscient point of view shouldn’t be used, especially to start a story (some not at all). It confuses the reader and weakens their investment in any of the characters. Period. I’ll admit in some adventure and thriller stories, I’ve seen it used effectively, but it had to be short and there had to be a main point of view character take over real quick or I lost interest real quick!
START THE STORY WITH A BANG
Those are my words, but essentially start the story with action, not background! Even worse, don’t start the story with a flashback.
IDENTIFICATION AND SETTING
Always start the story by identifying up front who the character is and the setting. There’s nothing worse that carrying on a conversation between two heads in some unknown location.
DON’T START WITH LONG POETRY
Many stories start quoting a poem, whether made up by the author or quoted from another source. It’s usually on the page prior to the first page. A mistake several of the first page authors made was to include it with their first page. “Beeg meestake” as Ahnuld, the Governator is known for saying. One author’s poem was so long and boring, it took up half the page.
The first page of the story shouldn’t have a long poem. It should be on the previous page so that those of us, me included, that have no inclination toward poetry, can skip over it and get right to the good stuff!
IF YOU’RE GOING TO USE EXTREME COLORFUL METAPHORS, MAKE SURE THERE’S A STORY ATTACHED TO THEM SOMEWHERE
One story didn’t embarrass me a bit with all the foul language. In fact, I’ve been known to talk worse than that in normal conversation, well… without the racial epithets. While more than half the room was either sniggering, blushing or scowling, I waited for some semblance of story, ala Identification And Setting above. Never happened. This was one of those weird ones where the judges didn’t all raise their hands to the end because they wanted to hear if anything actually happened. It didn’t.
Language has to have a purpose and you need to get to the point right away, not pages later.
Though I don’t personally judge books by the first page, agents and publishers do. Keep that in mind when you start or edit your story.