How to Ensure the First Three Pages of Your Novel Captivate the Reader

Secret: seize the Heart First

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Romance Writers of America used to mail its members a magazine full of helpful articles and industry news called the Romance Writer’s Report. For a while, they had a column called “First Three Pages” where a brave writer submitted the first three pages of their manuscript to be reviewed and critiqued by an editor.

I used to find it interesting to read what editors liked and disliked about the beginning of a novel. The comments the editors made were not surprising. They liked it when a story captivated them immediately with a good hook. They liked it when their curiosity was piqued. Humor, tension, or any emotion at the start was a plus.

The editors usually mentioned the overall strengths and weaknesses of the opening. They also offered some advice and stated whether they would request to read more or not if it came across their desk.

I liked the column because it was realistic, and the reader got a peek behind the scenes of what happened to a manuscript when an editor read it.

Be the editor

This column also opened my eyes to how important those first three pages were. The editor made many assumptions about the entire novel based solely on those three pages. One time, an editor was concerned about the heroine being too weak and mentioned that romance readers liked the female lead who showed some spunk and were not pushovers.

This caused me to wonder if it was ever a good idea to open a novel where a heroine was at a weak point. If she’d just been fired, cheated on, lost a loved one and felt like giving up, would this turn editors off? Was opening a novel with a struggling, unhappy, or upset heroine wrong in romance novels? Often, writers are told to begin a novel in the middle of a problem, so was this bad advice? I had these and many questions.

The answers to these questions were not as important as the fact that a complex novel was being judged based on how a writer opened the story. So, a weak heroine was not bad or wrong, per se, but if it appeared to the editor that a character had a likability flaw or that the reader would not be instantly curious or attracted to the…