How to Nail the First Page of Your Manuscript
Nailing a first page is H.A.R.D. LIke crazy hard. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most important pages--for both landing a publishing deal and getting readers.
In this post, I edit a writer’s first draft of a first page so you can see what to look for on your first page.
This excerpt was generously submitted by the lovely Melanie Vallely. She sent me a rough draft of the first draft of her first page--in other words, she already knew it needed tons of work before she sent it my direction!
Here is the first page, without my edits. As you read, see if you can identify what’s working and what isn’t working--and more importantly, WHY it’s working or not working. Then read my edits below.
First page excerpt by Melanie Vallely (Genre: Women’s fiction)
“Dr. McClellan!” Dr. Tunbolt strode towards me. I had just walked out of the final portion of my day and a half interview with the Annabelle Richardson Memorial Research Center. I was vying for a coveted position at Anders University as a medical anthropologist. Dr. Tunbolt was my potential future boss, and my only previous personal interaction with him was over the phone for a preliminary interview. I had introduced myself to him during the panelist portion of my interview, but this was the first time I was seeing him face-to-face without the impersonal contact of an interview. He covered the distance between us in several strides. He was not a tall man. As a testament to his increasing age, his jet-black hair was oiled and slicked back and wisps of white hair began to creep in and highlight his temples.
“Dr. Tunbolt, hello,” I shook his hand as he approached. “It’s nice to officially meet you.” I was giddy from the interview that had gone well, and I still had the professional smile from the day’s events held taught in my cheeks. I had just completed the interview of my dreams, and I had completed it well. Everything pointed toward me landing this job.
“Good job today,” he said. He still clasped my hand and lingered on the handshake before dropping his hand to his side.
“Thank you, I think it did too,” my smile grew. The warmth of excitement seeped into me, covering and calming the nerves from my interview.
“You really won them over in there,” he winked. His smile took on a Cheshire quality. My smile faded. A twinge of uncertainty waved a red flag in my mind, but I pushed it away.
“Yes, thank you,” I said, pushing the full professional smile back to my cheeks.
“Of course, I knew it from the moment I laid eyes on you. You’d make the perfect fit. With credentials like those?” He whistled low. “You’ll fit right in with the caliber of people here.”
“Thank you,” I nodded again. “I’ll be excited to hear back from you all after your decision.”
“Oh, you know, I don’t think you need to worry,” he said. I caught his eyes briefly roving down me. Sensing my gaze, his eyes darted to the right to focus on a ficus in the corner. I must have mistaken the glance. He wiped his finger under his nose, sniffed, and brought his eyes back to mine. “You’ll be hearing from us in no time,” he said, smiling again. He looked down at his watch. “Well, I must be off, but have a good day,” Dr. Tunbolt struck out his hand for a farewell handshake, and when I shook his hand, he clapped his other hand over my own, encasing it.
Always make sure you give your reader context on the first page of your story. It doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out yet, but they need some hint of where all of this is taking place.
Whenever possible, make sure that the first page (first sentence or two is even better) hints that all is not as it seems.
Make sure that you ground us quickly inside the mind of the character (usually the main character, but not always). If you aren’t writing in a deep POV or in first person, then make sure you give as many external clues as possible that deep, important, meaningful things are occurring.
Be as specific as possible. Vagueness makes readers close the book. Specifics keep them reading.
Don’t info dump. This isn’t the place for it. If you need to give information, make it short and snappy. If you can’t write the scene without the info, then maybe pick a different scene that needs less information.
Make sure the internal/external conflict is hinted at in some way right on the first page—and make sure it’s obvious to the reader, not so subtle that they are scratching their head wondering if they understood you correctly.