The first ten pages of a book or screenplay are absolutely crucial to the success of that work.
That’s a bold statement, sure, but true. If you do not hook your reader in your first ten pages, it is unlikely that they’ll read the next ten.
If you send your manuscript to an agent who claims to “read all submissions,” (and good luck finding one) be assured that if he or she doesn’t see something promising right up front, not only will he/she not continue reading, but you’ll spend a lot of time waiting for a phone call that will never come.
Some agents won’t even read past the FIRST page if it doesn’t hook them.
So how, exactly, DO you hook them? I have a few ideas:
Your voice. Every writer has a unique voice. A particular way of saying things that makes us know right way who’s writing. Stephen King is a great example. Years ago, when he wrote THINNER under the pen name Richard Bachman, I remember picking up the book in the bookstore and thinking, jeez, this guy writes just like Stephen King. And it was good, of course. I was hooked from page one. If you work to develop a voice that is smooth, professional and, most importantly, entertaining, you’ll have gone a long way toward making those first ten pages sing.
Make it a mystery. I don’t care what kind of story you’re writing. EVERY story is a mystery story. And by mystery, I merely mean that you don’t reveal everything up front. You tease your reader, planting questions in his/her mind, questions that he wants answers to. But then you take your time answering them. In a typical cop story, this might be “who killed the waiter and why?” But it could also be, “Who rejected Allison? Why is she afraid to ride the bus? What happened to her that was so traumatic?” Your job is to plant seeds in those first ten pages and use the next 390 to watch them grow.
Start with action. And by action I don’t necessarily mean a chase scene or gun play. I merely mean to begin IN MOTION. You might have a couple waiting to hear from a doctor, or a man driving to a place he’s dreading, a woman getting a phone call from an old lover. Whatever the case, do not start with a stagnant scene — like someone waking in the morning. Start with the story already in motion.
If you follow these three suggestions, I think you’ll be a long way toward making those first ten pages engaging and rewarding to the reader.
But once you’ve got them hooked, the trick is to keep them hooked until the very last scene.