Okay, let’s talk about the DFWCon’s First Page Gong Contest!


So, participants at DFWCon could anonymously submit the first page of their manuscripts into this Gong Contest.  No names, no book titles, nothing but your writing.  They picked a few randomly, and those were read aloud by a man with an incredibly fantastic movie-trailer voice.  Which was hilarious, for some of them.

While he read, the agents–lined in a row–were supposed to hit the provided mini-gongs when they’d stop reading.  If a first page had more than three gongs, the reader would stop, and the agents would talk about why they “gonged.”

This is a list of their reasons.  Which means it’s a list of things to AVOID in your first page.

Here’s what stopped them:

  1. Questions in the first paragraph.  Usually rhetorical.
  2. Poor pacing.
  3. A character wakes up / starts school / all other cliches.
  4. CLICHES.  (Stated twice because it happened twice in the few samples we heard.)
  5. No action right off the bat.
  6. No action right off the bat.
  7. No action right off the bat.  (In case you missed it, this is HUGE.)
  8. Too much telling, not enough showing.
  9. Too much distance from the character.  They want to be up, close, and personal.
  10. Starting with description.
  11. Writing sounded too much like a voice-over for a movie.
  12. Characters aren’t likable.
  13.  Character is too mysterious, and they couldn’t get a feel for him / her.
  14. Dialogue / description being too flowery.  Story is lost in prose.
  15. No clear main character.
  16. Sounding like the back-of-the-book summary instead of the actual story.
  17. TOO MUCH HEADSPACE.  Having introspection right off the bat kills all excitement.
  18. Too much surveying or noting things.  No one cares.  Get to the plot.
  19. Characters are too one-dimensional or wooden.

I’ll be expanding on some of these during the next panel review, but this was a pretty interesting introduction to First Page Sins.  By which I mean we all looked like this after it was over:

Robin crying under desk (how I met your mother)


Still!  The important thing to know is that these were their general issues, but it’s all personal preference.  One first page had three gongs before it was finished, but enough of it was read that an agent asked for the copy afterwards, and yelled to the audience, “Whoever wrote this, send me your full manuscript.  I’m dying to read it.”

Miracles do happen!

That said, don’t be stupid about crafting your first page.  These things are generally things I avoid as a reader, too.  If I’m in a character’s head too much on page one, it doesn’t give me hope for the rest of the novel.  If I don’t connect with the main character right off the bat, I close the book, because I don’t really care what happens.

Remember this as you’re writing.  Think about what you’d want to see as a reader, and review your first page with an analytical eye.

As I said before, next week’s topic will be First Page Sins, and we’ll be back to actual panels again.  So I’ll delve into this subject a little more on Monday!  Hope to see you there!


8 thoughts on “DFWCon Panel: Gong Contest

  1. It’s an interesting idea, and I can see the importance of a solid first page from the viewpoint of a professional-reader-of-amateur-books, but I myself am a casual-reader-of-professional-books and I personally don’t give the first page *THAT* much importance. It definitely takes me at least five or six before I’m well and truly bored enough to put down the book. Perhaps the true importance of the first page is to hook an agent not to hook a reader.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. TBH, five or six is still too little. Unless there are EPIC CATASTROPHES in the characters or dialogue (usually dialogue), I’ll give it until about page 30… which is definitely why it took me three tries to read The Lies of Locke Lamora. >.<

      Liked by 1 person

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