I talked earlier about going to a class at the LDStorymaker conference last weekend where the editors/agents said they usually only read a page or two before deciding to reject a novel or not. I also taught two classes at the conference called "Publication Primer," and "Bootcamp," (which is where the first 10-15 pages of a manuscript go through a deep critique) and several of the aspiring authors had done one of the "things an author should probably never do," so I thought I would mention three of them them here, since they are fairly big no-nos.
1) Never start your novel with a dream or prologue. It's looked at as a lazy way to provide a hook for your story and agents/editors hate it. I know you might think that you are a strong enough writer to do it, but honestly, it is extremely hard to do well, even for experienced writers. Just don't do it. Look for a stronger way to start your story.
2) Too much background information. This one is very common. Authors (including myself sometimes) think that certain pieces of background are important to the story and we put them on the first few pages, when in reality, it's too much and all of that info should be worked into the story at a later date. Background info can be like quicksand, sucking your story downward to its rejection and slow death. Use a dramatic event or something interesting in your first few pages to draw the reader in, make them ask questions, and above all, keep reading!
3) You might think that since dialogue can be a great hook, then you must go on for three pages with lots and lots of dialogue! No, just no. As I mention in my class, every scene has to have the foundation of setting, characters interacting in that setting, and dialogue. You really can't have a great scene with only dialogue, or just a great setting, or a couple of characters. All three have to be present in order to have a working scene that will pull a reader in.
My opening scene has a woman drowning in the Malacca Strait, her burka pulling and twisting around her, as she sinks to the bottom. I thought it was pretty clean, but the agents who reviewed it pointed out a few fat places I could cut and gave me some suggestions for more immediate emotion. I think that's what we're all striving for in our writing---immediate questions/emotions and clean copy.
So it's back to the drawing board for me!
**Don't forget that tomorrow is First Page Friday and we have a fun first page that I will critique, my editor friend from back East will critique, and then you, the readers, can also offer your feedback. It's going to be fun!