The same seems to happen when we read. We rely heavily on that first page to convince us the time spent reading that particular story won't be wasted.
It's no wonder, then, that as writers we're so worried about grabbing readers' attention that we fall into the First Page Formula Rut.
The formula goes like this: introduce a character in the midst of a desperate action, like a dodging a bullet, followed by action, action, action written in plain, no-frills language, then cut to the second chapter before the reader has time to breathe or think. The character's desperation stems from a situation, rather than a state of mind, and resembles, in both action and writing, the opening of a movie.
Yet we're writing books and seem to have lost what's so amazing about this medium, that we can be in the characters' heads and use language, rather than situations, to create the drama.
Here's an example of what I mean from Democracy, a novel by Joan Didion published in 1984:
The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see.
Something to behold.
Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said.
He said to her.
Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor.
Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian.
He said: the sky was this pink no painter could approximate, one of the detonation theorists used to try, a pretty fair Sunday painter, he never got it. Just never captured it, never came close. The sky was this pink and the air was wet from the night rain, soft and wet and smelling like flowers, smelling like those flowers you used to pin in your hair when you drove out to Schofield, gardenias, never mind there were not too many flowers around those shot islands.
This is what I look for in a first page of a novel, exciting writing that hauls me off into another world.
What first page does that for you?