There's a great post on emerging writer's blog about an international literary contest, where brave writers anonymously submit the first page of their novel to be read aloud in front of a panel of agents, who all shout "STOP!" at the point where they'd cease reading. A sort of Britain's Got Talent for writers. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it was interesting to read some of the reasons given for not wanting to read on...
Opened with rhetorical question(s).
The first line is about setting, not about story.
The first line’s hook did not work, because it was not tied to the plot or the conflict of the opening scene.
Took too long for anything to happen (a critique, incidentally, leveled several times at a submission after only the first paragraph had been read); the story taking time to warm up.
Not enough happens on page 1.
The opening sounded like an ad for the book or a recap of the pitch, rather than getting the reader into the story.
The opening contained the phrases, “My name is…” and/or “My age is…”
The opening contained the phrase, “This can’t be happening.”
The opening contained the phrase or implication, “And then I woke up.”
The opening had a character do something that characters only do in books, not real life. Specifically singled out: a character who shakes her head to clear an image, “he shook his head to clear the cobwebs.”
The character spots him/herself in a mirror, in order to provide an excuse for a physical description.
The first paragraph was straight narration, rather than action.
Too much physical description in the opening paragraph, rather than action or conflict.
Opening spent too much time on environment, and not enough on character.
There are LOADS more reasons on the author author site and only 8 on why an agent WOULD read on. Blimey.
I'm guilty of one of the above, but I'm not going to say which (shakes head to clear cobwebs. No it wasn't that one.) I like to think I've done it in a lightly amusing fashion, rather than a cliched one though I'm probably wrong.
Either way it's definitely worth whipping out that first page again and trying to make it really stand out. Thing is, can I keep it up for the rest of the novel?