For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine ?
I’ve heard contradicting opinions on this. Some people say exposition is important. Some people say don’t start right out with action because you don’t have a character basis of who to “root for” yet. Personally, when I’m reading something, I want to be slapped in the face immediately with excitement and fill me in on the boring stuff later. (Anyone who has read FIRE IN THE WOODS knows what I mean by this. 🙂 )
So, when my BP (Beta Partner) had a story that started with tons of talking and setting, I said, “According to what I’ve read, this is okay.” But, being the good beta partner that I am, I let her “have it” and told her I was bored. But, all the exposition stayed (with some trimming to six pages). (I’m not saying she trimmed for me… I believe she has five beta partners, so I’m sure there were a wealth of comments to revise from.)
Unfortunately though, the publisher found it to be an unnecessary character study and suggested cutting the first five pages completely. What was after these five pages, was a brief conversation of a dream that actually had relevance to the story (almost a page long) and then the action started.
The publisher’s commented that the first five pages were not engaging. What I got out of that, was that they didn’t want to see a few kids hanging out and talking. They wanted something to HAPPEN. The story actually does, I must admit, start right where they suggested… The dream is a foreshadowing, and then the action that is the catalyst that changes the MC’s life forever happens right afterwards.
***Always start the story as close to the life changing event as possible***
So, what gets lost in the first five pages? Well, the set up of the friendship between the two MC’s, which can be played out pretty quickly in the next pages, and (ouch) a lot of setting. To me, that’s no biggie, but my BP is a big setting person. She likes her imagery. Now she needs to work in her sweeping mansion and grounds into the action scenes or between them. It will be a little work.
Moral of the story: Setting is important, but not too much up front. Make sure something happens in the first page or so to drag your reader in.
Also see my post on how I changed (and am still changing) my first page after a contest judge didn’t find my first page exciting enough— and there was hardly any setting there at all!
Go back and make your first few pages ROCK! If you don’t excite the reader right away, they might put your novel down and buy something else.