I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference East in NYC at the beginning of April and found many nuggets of inspiration. On the last day of the conference, Paula Munier from Talcott Notch Literary presented a segment on writing the first ten pages of your novel.
My prior blog post was on pitching to agents and editors. Whether through a pitch or a query letter, an author hopes for a submission request—at minimum, the first ten pages. Do your first ten pages have what it takes to capture an agent or a publisher’s attention? According to Paula, you have only about 250 words to grab your reader. But the good news: if your work is really good, it will rise to the top of the slush pile.
I liked what Paula had to say. I especially liked when she said that she could fix plotting, but she couldn’t fix craft.
Ten things that will keep them reading:
1) Something happens (inciting incident)
2) Story is told in a strong voice
4) Characters elicit feelings in the reader
5) Writer has gained the reader’s confidence
6) Reader wants to know what happens next
7) Something is unique about the story or storyteller
8) It’s clear what kind of story is being told
9) There is a market for the story
10) Writing is clean, clear, concise
Examples of what will make them stop reading:
1) Nothing happens
2) It’s boring
3) It’s been seen before
4) Can’t connect with the character(s) or the story
5) Plot is unbelievable
6) Dialogue doesn’t sound real
7) Don’t care what happens next
8) Poor grammar and spelling
Even though there are exceptions to these rules, these are the ones that will cause eyes to roll. So, don’t make these mistakes:
1) Don’t start with the weather
2) Don’t start with a Prologue (I don’t always agree with this one)
3) Don’t start with a dream (My first editor yelled at me for this one, so I changed it!)
4) Don’t start with a character alone thinking
5) Don’t start with a phone call
Another piece of advice is to make the first lines rock.
Have you ever fallen into one of these traps? What do you think of your first ten pages? Do they rock or do they flop?