Start off with a Bang

The cold, hard truth of submitting your work: your opening better be kick-ass. At the Ploughshares blog, Sarah Martin Banse shares her thoughts on why you need a great opening:

“If you want to get out of the slush pile, one of the worst things you can do is write a lackluster first paragraph. Don’t make the mistake of thinking: the really fine writing starts on page three of my story, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it when they get there.  By page three, I’m frustrated. If you want out of the slush pile, you must prove it from the first paragraph, from the first line.”

I think this is great advice no matter what you’re writing or who you’re submitting to. Editors and agents only have so much time in the day, and if you can’t hook them right away, there’s no way they’re going to keep reading to get to the really exciting part later on.

That doesn’t mean your first page has to be all explosions at the unicorn factory. (Although if anyone has that opening, I want to see it.) It can be quiet, but it has to challenge the reader in some way–an interesting image, the suggestion that today is going to be significant for the main character, a hint that this world is different from the one we know, etc.

I’ve been on the reading side of the slush pile for both literary fiction and YA/children’s, and if a story didn’t grab me within the first few pages, chances are that I’d end up scanning the rest without much interest. Maybe some agents and editors are much more forgiving readers, but why take that chance? Make sure your first pages are irresistible.

8 thoughts on “Start off with a Bang

  1. MishaBurnett says:

    I was one of the lucky ones.
    I had just finished my shift–eight hours screwing horns onto the foreheads of genetically modified ponies–and I was heading to my car for the drive to Clancey’s and a couple of cold ones. I had been there the night before, and ended up closing the place, so I’d been moving slow this morning.
    That’s why I was parked at the far end of the lot, and that’s why I was out of range when the first bomb went off.

  2. Alanna says:

    This is such good advice! And I need to hear it right now, because I’m writing a proposal to the Hubble Space Telescope this week. I’ve been on the other end, and man, it is HARD to make it out of the HST slush pile! Maybe I can work exploding unicorn factories into my opening somehow?

  3. Claire says:

    I just used this as a creative writing excercise. Just to see if I could write the next great YA fantasy novel.

    Spoiler alert: no one look for this opening on shelves near you in 2016! I’m on the hunt for another fantasy animal to be my muse though.

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