There's an interesting article written by Chuck Sambuchino over on the Writer's Digest site titled 7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter. This is interesting for any of you newbie writers hitting road blocks with chapter one (like me).
The first three reasons agents say they stop reading a manuscript are:
1) Generic Beginnings. Agents state that stories which open with the date or the weather do not hold a reader's interest or attention. My writing buddy recently gave me a copy of Donald Maass's The Fire In Fiction (Writer's Digest Books, 2009) where Maass talks about weather as an opener. He says, "Weather openings are common - and dull. At my office, we toss them aside with grunts of impatience." He goes on to say that there are some instances where weather as an opener works and he gives an example. But the only way weather has an affect on readers is "not because it is an outward portent but because it is tied to an inward storm. A lighting flash in the sky is a cliche until it is fused to a bolt of interior tension. Describe the plain old weather and who cares? Provoke anxiety in the readers first and then - brrr- the icy November drizzle gives us a chill."
2) Slow beginnings. Nothing puts the kabosh on chapter one faster than unnecessary backstory (well, except weather, apparently) Maass says backstory is a low-tension trap that keeps the action from movin' along.
3) Trying too hard. Too many big words = classic newbie writer mistake. If you find yourself turning to your thesaurus more often than not, give it a rest. Or I like to say, if you go back and read your story and forget the definition of the big word you used, you might want to omit it. Remember the Friends episode where Joey writes a letter of recommendation to the adoption agency for Monica and Chandler? He changes "hearts" to "aortic pumps."
Hop on over to the Writer's Digest site to read the four other reasons agents stop reading your first chapter. And happy writing ~