My Top First Pages Pet Peeves and How to Fix Them!

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August 2 Question:

What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Perfect timing for this question! I’m about to dive into Pitch Wars submissions, which means a whole slew of first pages. (If you don’t know about Pitch Wars, see my previous post, or go here to the brand new Pitch Wars website! The skinny: writers submit pitches and first chapters to other writers for a chance to be mentored before an agent showcase round 3 months from now.)

Let me say this first: just about anything in writing can be improved or fixed. Writing is a craft that takes time. I’m light years ahead of where I was five years ago, but there are books I pick up sometimes that make me weep at their greatness. So, in the spirit of Pitch Wars, let’s turn this pet peeves post into more constructive advice.

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My Top First Pages Pet Peeves – and How to Fix Them!

  1. A lackluster first line
    • A first line is your first impression to a reader. It’s a great spot to display your voice, set the tone, and show off a little. Highlight a contradiction, present a shocking statement or a concept that poses a question. Get creative and craft a memorable line.
  2. A perpetually pondering character
    • Ever read a first page without any action? Where the character explains their thoughts, their dreams and setbacks, and wonders about everything from their own emotions to impending doom? There are always exceptions, but typically a whole page of solid narration with no sense of place, setting, or movement is kind of a drag. You don’t have to land readers in the middle of a gun fight, but starting your story where something is happening, changing, or active can entice readers to turn the page.
  3. Character soup
    • Too many characters too fast. For example, laying out the hierarchy of a magical monarchy on page one. Focus on one or two characters at first. Ease readers in.
  4. Any writer syndrome
    • This is a perfectly nice page full of grammatically correct sentences. That could be written by anybody. Look at the first few pages of your story. Can you see your personality in them? Is the type of story you’re trying to tell obvious from the tone you’re setting?
  5. The unnecessary prologue
    • Everybody wants to write a prologue. How else will you know that the chosen one came from a long line of ancient Viking pirates cursed by rebel fairies? Consider whether you’re able to start the story in a different place without backtracking centuries to ancient lore. Or, write the prologue for yourself so you know your character’s backstory, but resist (if you can!) using it in your actual submission. Prologues aren’t “bad” or “wrong” per se, but they rarely are needed in the way authors think they are. Believe me, I have tried!

First pages have a lot of heavy lifting to do! What are pet peeves you encounter in books? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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