Following the fabulous JRW 2012 Conference, I am revisiting my earlier post discussing making the most of your first page and adding more insights I have picked up.
Dreams, Flashbacks and Backstory
Don’t do it. Do not begin your story with a dream. It’s cliche, and more importantly, as someone had noted in a prior JRW conference, dreams are inconsequential.
Do not begin your story with a flashback. If you need to inform the reader of something that happened in the past at this point of your story, then you’re starting your story at the wrong place.
Like flashbacks, a backstory does not belong on the first page. We do not need to know everything about the character(s) on the first page. Just enough to whet our interest to turn the page. Save the flashbacks and backstory for later.
Setting and World Building
There were several First Pages examples where we didn’t have a sense where or when the story was taking place and this made it difficult to follow the story. Where are we? When are we?
Even a sentence or two will do.
Along those lines, there were submissions of the fantasy and science fiction genres, but there was no hint of fantasy or sci-fi elements in the first pages. Be sure to put your reader in this alternate universe at the start. (Horseback riding and uncommon names are not sufficient to tell the reader it’s an epic fantasy tale.)
A first page with conversations generally does not work (not to say that it can’t work). Dialogue at the very beginning can confuse the reader and often does not provide enough context to feel drawn into the story and identify with the characters. Invest in set up and let the chatter come a little later.
Do Not Get in the Way of Your Action
If you’re opening with an action scene, do not bog it down with detail. Strip out extraneous observations and modifiers. For example, if you are opening with your character startled awake and he or she needs to scramble to find a safe place to hide from the antagonists, do not look away to describe the beautiful dawn or digress into backstory.