Top 5 mistakes in the first 5 pages


pen_nib_with_reflectionI read a lot of books. Let me rephrase: I start a lot of books. I’m a serial sampler, and I get a lot of book review requests, but I rarely get past the first five pages. I don’t like giving out bad news, but if it were me, I’d want to know . . .  so if you’ve put in a review request and haven’t heard from me, chances are it’s for one of these reasons:

1. Overwriting—By far the most common problem. If every sentence is “special,” the story gets bogged down. It’s like wading through a thick gooey molasses swamp of fabulous metaphors surrounded by thick forests of vicious adjectives being quickly chased by adverbs. Get it?

2. A bland opening—Please don’t talk about the weather, or chores, or waking up first thing in the morning. Good stories have tension, ideally from the very first sentence. Even if a book doesn’t have that grabber first line, I give it a few more pages, but if there’s no tension by page five, chances are it’s never going to pick up steam.

3. Unoriginal premise—The YA fantasy genre in particular is full of clichés and trends. I’ve already read the big hits. Show me something new! If you really have to write about vampires, werewolves, or angels, do it in a different way. And please no more mysterious cloaked strangers!

4. The deadly boring prologue—They can really hinder a reader who wants to dive into your story, especially if there’s a mysterious hooded figure in it. (See #3)

5. Unsympathetic characters—We all want to read about cool characters. That’s why we read sci-fi and fantasy, but if your better-than-human character has absolutely no flaws, it’s hard to care about them.

I hope this is helpful to my fellow writers . These issues can be caught in early drafts by a good writing group (preferably one that is not made up of relatives; we don’t want to encourage family strife!) We writers are sensitive beings, but we need a dose of reality now and then. My advice: take the criticism when it hits home, learn from it, and keep on writing!

What are your pet peeves in stories? What makes you put a book down after only five pages?

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5 Responses to Top 5 mistakes in the first 5 pages

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I agree with all of these and would like to add the information dump beginning. Let the reader learn about your characters and world the same way you learn about a person in real life. A little bit at a time.

  2. Damyanti says:

    I hate backstory in beginnings.

    • sarazaske says:

      I do too. Some backstory is needed eventually, but I can wait for it. Certainly not in the first few pages. And not all at once! (see Roxanne’s comment on the “information dump”)

  3. Pingback: How to Write an Addictive First Chapter | Geoff Livingston's Blog

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