Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How to Craft Fabulous First Pages - Guest Post by Barbara M. Britton

About Barbara:

Barbara M. Britton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but currently lives in Wisconsin and loves the snow—when it accumulates under three inches. She writes Christian Fiction for teens and adults. Barb has a nutrition degree from Baylor University but loves to dip healthy strawberries in chocolate. Barb kicked off her Tribes of Israel series in October with the release of “Providence: Hannah’s Journey.” Her second book “Building Benjamin: Naomi’s Journey” released In April. The Journeys will continue this fall with “Jerusalem Rising: Adah’s Journey.” Barb is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America and Wisconsin Romance Writers of America.

When do you stop reading a book?

Better yet, do you even begin reading a book if the first page is dull, lackluster, or confusing? I’ve heard it said that literary agents know if they will represent a book after reading the first page. At a pitch appointment, I had an agent request just one page of my story. One page? I was insulted, but it showed me how important openings are to readers—and agents.

The past several years, I have judged a contest where writers submit the first five pages of their novel. Mistakes can pop up in those important pages. Here are a few issues that will sink your contest score, and/or cause an agent to pass on your manuscript.

Crowding too many people into the opening.

Readers need to get to know your main character. After all, we are going to follow them through the entire story. Keep your narrative centered around the MC (main character). Readers don’t need to be introduced to an extended family, circle of friends, or a myriad of co-workers in the first pages. My brain hurt as I was introduced to a five-piece band, a department store full of employees, and an entire Bible Study, all in the first five pages of novels. How could I keep these people straight? And did I need to? Were these people going to disappear after the first chapter? Should they? Try to focus on who matters most. And don’t have your MC knocked unconscious in the first pages. I’ve seen this too. Comatose characters can’t interact with anyone.

Focus on the here and now. Post a sign “No Info Dumping.”

Start a story with what is currently happening in your main character’s life. Please don’t take the reader on a stroll down memory lane, or feel that you have to inform us of the past few years of a character’s life. Information on a character’s history can be slipped in by what they’re wearing, what they say, how skilled they are at a task, or who shows up at their door. We have a whole novel to get acquainted with your characters, don’t start page one with backstory.

Where am I?

Characters are important, but the setting matters as well. Hint at where the story takes place. If the MC is at a balmy beach in January, he/she isn’t in Wisconsin. If a character is rushing to take the ACT and a bell rings, I bet they’re at a high school. You can name an airport, stadium, or street and set the scene immediately.

What’s in a name?

I had to change a character’s name in my debut novel because it started with the same letter as my hero. This secondary character showed up throughout the book. My editor got confused when the two men were in a scene together. Confusion isn’t good, so I changed the name of my secondary character. Use the whole alphabet when naming your characters and avoid too many similar names (Cathy, Cassie, Carrie).

Know your genre.

What type of story are you writing? Readers have expectations of what should happen in the opening pages of a particular genre. If you’re writing romance, the hero and heroine meet very soon. This is sometimes called the “meet cute.” In mysteries and thrillers, something is wrong and needs to be set right. Young Adult novels have characters who are teenagers (usually 14-18). If your characters are over 18 then you’re writing in the New Adult or Literary Fiction genres. Know the parameters of the genre you are writing. Word counts differ. Language matters. Read widely in the genre you are writing, so you know what’s expected by the reader. You can even read reviews of similar books on Goodreads and Amazon to see common themes readers enjoyed.

Openings may seem difficult, but as I tell my sons when they are writing papers for school, “You can’t fix a blank page.” I’ve been told that quote comes from Nora Roberts. Remember, writing something is better than writing nothing at all. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make things permanent. The more you write, the better you will become. So, go forth and ace that opening.

What do struggles do you face while crafting the opening to a novel?


  1. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts today, Tessa.
    Blessings on your week!

    1. No problem, Barbara! I'm glad that you could share these tips with us. =)

  2. This was a very helpful post! My novel is in its revision stage, and one of my things I KNOW I need to fix is my first page (actually, my entire first chapter needs work). Thanks for all the helpful tips!

  3. I'm glad this was helpful, Talia. Thanks for joining us.


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