The first page needs some description in order to ground me in the world and in the protagonist’s experience. Many rejected pages I see have either too much or not enough.
Go for immediate, sense-based details and don’t wander away from what’s happening. Your first page must be active, but don’t simply say what happens. Let us hear, smell, and feel the sensations your character has when the first bomb hits or the ghost appears in the garden.
Most importantly, recognize the power of ordinary words. Look at the first two sentences of THE RAVEN BOYS:
It was freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrived. Every year, Blue and her mother, Maura, had come to the same place, and every year it was chilly.
Freezing, churchyard, and the dead conjure strong images for most people–boom, setup. Same place gives me a sense of Blue’s relationship with the churchyard. Stiefvater uses only one word to describe the dead-watching event: chilly. Focusing on this feature drives home the wintry image I got from freezing and tells me Blue’s biggest concern is the cold, not the dead people.
So much in only 2 sentences with only 3 adjectives.
Pick good words and trust their strength. Trust the reader’s imagination. Churchyard is an ordinary word, but it taps a slew of pictures, memories, and feelings in the reader. We only need a few words to get a feel for a place.
Anything more is over-description.
Image by Ian Charleton.