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Johne

How To Nail Your First Five Pages

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I've written and rewritten my first chapter nineteen times. I'm not entirely sure I won't revisit it nineteen times more before I'm done.

https://mailchi.mp/xmission/david-farlands-writing-tips-your-first-five-pages-6re57p0v5l
 

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When you send a novel to an agent or publisher, they normally ask for the first five or ten pages, just so that they can gauge your writing skill. If those pages don’t grab the reader, it won’t sell.

As an editor, I read thousands of stories a year, and it would be difficult to tell you all of the ways that you can go wrong, or all of the things that you can do right. But let’s hit some main points:

1)    From the very first sentence, I want to see that you’re not just a competent writer, but a skillful one. I want to see that you have a way with words, so that I feel as if I’m in the hands of a professional storyteller. That means that I won’t feel confused, and I won’t get tripped up by typos or beginner’s mistakes. Indeed, I want to see that you’re talented right from the first sentence. Half of the editors and agents say that they look for a great voice right out the gate, whether it be the voice of the narrating character or of the author.

2)    I want to know (or at least have some great hints) where and when the story is taking place. It helps if the setting is intriguing and beautifully drawn. Of course, when you bring that setting to life, you should appeal to most of the senses quickly—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.

3)    I want to know who the protagonist is and I want to see you handling the viewpoint properly. This means that the protagonist moves, has an emotional state, and thinks, so that we aren’t seeing the tale from a camera’s point of view, but from a real person’s. More than that, it is often helpful if the character is likeable or interesting or even both.

4)    In the opening five pages, I must see a hint of an intriguing conflict, one that is already building toward a climax. To get that in quickly, this means that you almost need to start the story in media res.

5)    In my business as a science fiction and fantasy editor, I want to see some novelty—something that tells me that your work is original, that you’re capable of coming up with something new.

Now, that’s my short list. I could go on and suggest that I want to see that you know how to construct a scene, that you can dazzle the reader in subtle ways that most pros know, that you know how to construct a plot, that you tastefully insert the emotional draws your audience is hoping for, that you are a pro at constructing believable dialog—and a dozen other little things.

But as you can see, for the first five pages, I can only hope for so much. All that I really want is to be convinced that you’re one of the greatest discoveries that I’ve ever made. If you think that an agent or editor wants anything less, you’re mistaken. The truth is that every editor and every agent who reads your manuscript is hoping that your tale demands to be published.

 

 

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Thank you so much for sharing this, Johne! This will really help me in the future when submitting my work. It is indeed important to grab a reader's attention right from the start. These tips will aid me immensely. 

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21 hours ago, Johne said:

3)    I want to know who the protagonist is and I want to see you handling the viewpoint properly. This means that the protagonist moves, has an emotional state, and thinks, so that we aren’t seeing the tale from a camera’s point of view, but from a real person’s. More than that, it is often helpful if the character is likeable or interesting or even both.

 

Hey, what would suggest doing when the protagonist has a delayed entry so that he doesn't fit into the first five pages?

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22 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

 

Hey, what would suggest doing when the protagonist has a delayed entry so that he doesn't fit into the first five pages?

 " I love the smell of a major rewrite in the morning. It smells like victory!"

Edited by EClayRowe
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1 minute ago, suspensewriter said:

"What is the frequency, Kenneth?"

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnndddd who's Kenneth?

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4 minutes ago, Sarah Daffy said:

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnndddd who's Kenneth?

Old guy pop culture reference. Dan Rather, the anchor of a popular network newscast, was assaulted in New York City's Central Park by thugs who repeatedly asked this cryptic question.

 

SW, I'm just going to stick with what has worked for others until my foot is well planted in the doorway!

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2 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

 

Hey, what would suggest doing when the protagonist has a delayed entry so that he doesn't fit into the first five pages?

"Suspense Writer." If you are what your user name says you are, it is different. I'm thinking detective stories or espionage, in which case, the cause for needing your protag is shown before your protag arrives. We see so-and-so's murder. We see the lives of the people a spy is about to up-heave before we meet the spy. (Thinking Eye of the Needle.) There is room for a different opening, but it's still important to have the reader care about who we do meet.

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32 minutes ago, Spaulding said:

I wrote that opening like David Farland suggested and still couldn't convince an agent to take it. o_O

 

Keep plugging. I know of famous books that were declined 20 times before someone picked it up.

Alternatively, I'm planning to self-publish when I've completed my due diligence.

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Just now, Johne said:

Alternatively, I'm planning to self-publish when I've completed my due diligence.

Self-publishing is how I'm thinking of starting out in my writing, and eventually I'm going to try to submit some of my bigger works to a regular publisher.

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2 minutes ago, Erin Cook said:

Self-publishing is how I'm thinking of starting out in my writing, and eventually I'm going to try to submit some of my bigger works to a regular publisher.


Same, unless I'm 'discovered' and publishers start seeking ME out. Which happens every now and then.

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1 minute ago, Johne said:


Same, unless I'm 'discovered' and publishers start seeking ME out. Which happens every now and then.

That would be pretty cool!! :)

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1 hour ago, Johne said:

 

Keep plugging. I know of famous books that were declined 20 times before someone picked it up.

Alternatively, I'm planning to self-publish when I've completed my due diligence.

24 impersonal rejects

28 no response ever.

3 close but no cigar rejects

1 partial with no response.

1 full with no response

 

And that was after skipping the ones I couldn't work with. (Frightening how many are looking for children's books that indoctrinate to the modern agenda.) I ran out of agents to query. I am hoping if I keep going, I can keep going back to Book 1 to fix any discrepancies. And, maybe, along the way to make it better.

 

Otherwise, small press or self-publish. And self-publish is a problem, because I don't want to go with Amazon.

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1 hour ago, Erin Cook said:

Self-publishing is how I'm thinking of starting out in my writing, and eventually I'm going to try to submit some of my bigger works to a regular publisher.

Just so you know, agents don't think much of those who self-publish first. (Most don't even count self-published as published, unless you sold over 3000 copies.)

 

Then again, I can think of several highly-successful writers who skipped trad. pub. all together and it worked out better for them.

 

I also know of a few self-pub authors who make a good living out of writing.

 

I'm not saying, "don't." Just learn first before making the decision.

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