Crime writer Roz Watkins has sent us this handy checklist for the very first page of your crime novel. Get this right, and your reader will carry on reading… get this wrong, and… well – you know what they say – you only get one chance to make a first impression!
A solid, consistent, clear Point-of-View. This is one of the most common reasons for manuscripts being rejected. First person or close third is popular in commercial fiction. So you only write things that the POV character would think, and don’t talk about the colour of their eyes! In literary fiction you can get away with clever stuff, but why make life hard for yourself with your first novel?
A relatable individual that the reader can latch on to. Something about the narrator must make them intriguing. Their perspective, turn of phrase, ideas about the world… Something to take it out of the ordinary.
A sense that we are at a pivotal moment for the character. Don’t start your book too soon in the story. Make sure something interesting is happening. On the first page, the character hanging off a cliff isn’t necessarily interesting (although it might be if well done), because we don’t necessarily care about them yet – you don’t always need to start with action, but you need some kind of conflict, mystery or intrigue.
An idea of where we are in space and time. But ideally conveyed in a way which develops character and/or plot. And not too much of it!
Clear writing. It’s okay for your character to be confused, but your reader absolutely mustn’t be confused about what you are trying to say.
Only a few characters (usually one or two) with clearly distinguishable names.
Something that challenges the character, giving them a problem. (You’ve started at a pivotal moment, haven’t you?)
A reason to read on. This is usually a question the reader wants answered. We’re programmed to want answers to questions. (This question should not be ‘WTF is going on?’)
No backstory. Save it for later.
No red flags – spelling or grammatical errors, cliches, too many adjectives and adverbs, unattributed dialogue.
And remember: Every word must count.
Roz Watkins is the author of the DI Meg Dalton series, which is set in the Peak District where Roz lives with her partner and a menagerie of demanding animals. Her debut novel, The Devil’s Dice, was published in March 2018. It was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award, and was recently The Times crime book of the month. Roz was previously a patent attorney, but this has absolutely nothing to do with a dead one appearing in her book!
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