Fortunately, there are tons of ways for this to happen:
- Dynamic characters - I don't mean that they do something on the first page. They can, but they can also just be fascinating people, and be showing just how fascinating they are on that first page.
- Unexpected plot twist - This is hard to do in only a page, but I've seen it done. One of my favorite books, The Amulet of Samarkand, does exactly this.
- Strong voice - Obviously the voice of your work always matters, but it really makes a difference in that very beginning when you are trying to get someone hooked.
- A really great idea - If you're world is truly unique or your book has some sort of really fantastic conceit, why not try to work it into the very beginning? (Unless of course it later acts as a surprise twist.)
- In medias res - Ah, high school English terms. However, starting in the middle of things can be exciting, and it can be a great way to get the story started.
These are all things that can get my heart racing when I start a manuscript. Unfortunately, most of the time the work I see has a slow start. Especially with newer authors, there is a tendency to write a bit to get to know the characters and world of the story with the action and actual book not starting for pages or even chapters into the manuscript. This is absolutely a great way to start a first draft, but by the time I'm looking at a work, that sort of thing should have been edited out. That is of course where writing partners and critique groups come in.
So, before you put that manuscript in the mail (or in the email these days), glance back over your first few pages and see if they are the kind of thing that will really jump out and grab the editor/agent by the throat. Or at least gently catch their attention.
Books I Think Have Great First Few Pages: