Longtime readers know I'm all about the first page. It's from editing and reading slush. Sorry. When I'm facing down fifty stories you have to capture my complete attention in the first 250 words or I'm all:
I'm told that's how it is in novels, as well. People want to know what the hell the story is about from the start. The first page is a contract with the reader. Here's my story. See what it's about? Cool character, huh? Keep reading, and I'll keep you entertained. That's the amount of your contract.
But really, all my own story bias aside, what belongs on a first page?
Okay, here's a couple of things not to do:
Fuck Prologues. 99.9% of prologues add zero to the story. They're authorial indulgence, most of 'em.
No vignettes or false starts. Another
authorial indulgence. This is your first page, damn it. Launch your
story, thrust your character into their dilemma, and grab the reader by
the short hairs. Vignettes are like taunting the reader with "here's
this cool thing that was so cool I couldn't cut it even though it
doesn't fit anywhere else in my cool book. OMG!!! I love my character
and story!!! Aren't they cool????" It's self-indulgent bull-crap. Stop
it! Besides, you can stick your false start on your outtakes page of your website after the book is made into a movie.
Don't have your character wake up or answer the phone. Just don't.
Now a few things TO DO. Probably not in any particular order. It's Saturday. I'm not feeling organized.
Set The Scene. Rules of journalism: who, where, what, why? How? can wait... in fact I think that's an awesome question for the first pages of a story or book to ask, but never answer.
Narrative Voice. Which should probably be a a subset of either introducing the character or setting the scene. First person? Third? Is there snark? Humor? Serious bloody shit going down all the time? Set the tone, man.
Start At The Start Of The Story. Um, yeah, well, duh. Or, not so duh, apparently. Where does your story start? Does it start with the protagonist waking up and having coffee? Maybe, if an intruder who is going to torture him wakes them by pouring hot coffee over him. Other than that, get me to where the damn story starts, where something happens that has something, for the love of God, to do with the STORY.
Introduce The Main Character, usually the protagonist. Gimme someone to latch onto. I can't get attached to a description of a place, or some old king who never reappears (don't laugh, just read a book like that) or a cat or fucking fog or something.
Show What Your Story Is About. I think the primary reason some first pages suck so badly is because when writers first write them, they don't know what the story is about, and yet people get so attached to their first pages. Sigh. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, pantzers) Go back, toss that fucker and write a new one that fits the story you wrote. Don't keep the one that fits the story you thought you were writing at the start of November (yeah, I'm talking to you, NaNoWriMo-ers). Sometimes it helps to think of the first page or really, the first scene, as a mini story of your whole book.
Action. For crissake have your character do something. A common problem is to have something just happen to the character. No. Get them in the driver's seat. Hotwire the car if you have to. It's part of that whole contract thing I mentioned. Nobody likes a doormat, especially readers.
Conflict. For crissake, give them some conflict. Conflict on every page. Especially the first page. There's a rule for you to stick in your back pocket.
In Medias Res. Right now this is en vogue. I list it here with a caveat: they should be in media res of their regular life right before the turning point. They hunt monsters? Let them discover The Monster the book will revolve around. And don't don't DON'T do a flashback to achieve in medias res. You've just broken the fucking contract, bucko. You'll be hearing from my attorneys.
First Lines. Obviously there must be a first line. However, I think the importance laid down on first lines is utter bullshit, actually. I like my first lines to shove me into the head of the protagonist. That's about it. A little narrative voice is nice in a first line, too. Other than that, don't sweat the damn thing. Personal preference, maybe, and some stories start with the antagonist,
but I liken those starts to Prologues. (See Fuck Prologues.)
And yeah. That's all I can think of. It's probably enough for now anyway.