This past month, we announced the winners of the “Begin Your Novel” contest.

I was impressed by many of the entries and thoroughly enjoyed reading through all the submissions. However, I did want to give some pointers on some common problems that I noticed among submissions.

Not all of the entries that didn’t win had these problems, but here are some common things that I noticed that you’ll want to watch out for:

1. Bland First Lines

A fair number of the entries didn’t fully utilize the first line as much as they could have.  The first line of your novel is going to be the first thing a prospective agent or publisher is going to read, so you’ll going to need to make it stand out.  A fair number of the entries just plunged right into the happenings story, which, while sometimes a valid tactic, also tends to give up a lot of potential greatness.  Most of the best lines in literature are those that are in a sense, self-contained, and are only used as a springboard to the opening of the story, instead of diving right into the action of the story.

2. Action before character

Another decent portion of the entries tended to begin the story by diving right into an action scene.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with beginning a story with an action scene: you do want to begin your novel with an enticing scene that will draw in your reader.  That being said, in literature unlike in movies, readers don’t tend to care about the action until they care about the characters.  I’m not suggesting that you cut the beginning action scene necessarily.  But if you want the audience to care about the action, give them some detail on the characters’ personalities first before you thrust them into a life-or-death situation.

3. Clichés

Now, clichés aren’t always necessarily a problem.  There’s only so much originality that can actually exist in a book; every work of fiction will be borrowing some from other works.  But if the beginning of your novel is looking like it follows some clichés, you’ll want to make sure to include some other elements that differentiate it from other novels that follow the same form.  Clichés aren’t enough to convince someone to read on; you’ll want to include some original elements as well.

So, there are three different potential problems you’ll want to watch out for in the opening of your novels.  Overall, I was impressed with the general quality of the submissions; but growth is always necessary. Continually work toward finessing the quality of your writing and the opening of the story, and you too will be able to write a killer first page.