1. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    Do you focus heavily on the first three while writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Haze-world, Dec 30, 2015.

    The question is: Do you all focus your story so that vital elements (opposing characters, plot lines) are shown or hinted at within the first three chapters with the knowledge that publishers judge books based on them?

    When I wrote the first draft of my WIP, a fantasy, I was ignorant of publishers only wanting the first three chapters, but the second time round, with an awful lot of rewriting, I find I am becoming extremely focused on showing the reader a glimpse of what is to come, within the first three chapters. However, this is so difficult to achieve while introducing the world and the main characters.

    I find I am struggling to get my key opposing character and his story in early enough. Should I be concerned or just not worry?
    :supershock:
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't know about three chapters, I always thought it was the first couple paragraphs.

    I've been paying attention to this as I read other books. Sometimes they do grab you from the beginning and in hindsight you can see how they identified some key elements in the first paragraph.

    But other books start off much more slowly.

    I think the key is to consider the genre and the audience, make the beginning as interesting as possible, and hook the reader right away if you are an unknown author (my opinion only).


    The Girl on the Train, which I am currently reading, gave me the idea I might also include the calm before the storm.
     
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  3. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    Thanks GingerCoffee
    My aim is to make every chapter interesting and hope it works out that way.
    : )
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't try to introduce those elements in the first three chapters as a way to entice an editor, but more as a way to entice the readers.

    I mean, three chapters without introducing plot lines? What would the chapters be about?

    Is it possible that you're starting your writing well before your story actually starts? That's usually a mistake. If you can start with the story, you can generally build most of the world building and other details in as its needed for the story.

    Read over a few of your favourite books and pay attention to the first few chapters. Do any of them skip over plot or characters?
     
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  5. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    Don't try to entice the editor/publisher.

    For a start it is completely arbitrary which unsolicited manuscripts are chosen for publication. You may have written a masterpiece but if they editor hasn't had their coffee/lunch/having a general bad day they aren't even going to bother with your genius.

    I worked at a publishing house where it was my job to toss everything in the slush pile (unsolicited manuscripts) into the recycling bin whenever it got too full.

    Another time I was given a manuscript to read by one of the editors. After I'd been reading it for a half hour she came back to ask my opinion.

    "This is the worst most horribly clichéd crap I've ever read," I said.

    "I know," said the editor. "We're publishing it."

    As for how to overcome this problem, self publishing is a good way to go. There are plenty of options now. And if it generates enough interest, a publisher might want to make money off you. :p
     
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  6. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Aster So publishers intentionally put out crap writing? Well that is some messed up funk. :p
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    OK so umm, I think it's interesting you worked at a publishing house, but I have a hard time with this:
    That just makes no commercial sense whatsoever and surely making money is the goal of a publishing house.
     
  8. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    It is harder to predict what book is going to take off and which will flop. You hear about publishers that passed on Harry Potter. If it was so clear that Harry Potter was going to make billions upon billions of pounds then, yes, the idea of a publisher tossing it in the bin would be insane. But it happens because publishers don't know what's going to be a huge success.

    They follow the trends of course. Teenage dystopian novels are doing very well at the moment. But eventually people will get sick of them and want something new. Problem is that publishers won't know what's popular until a particular book takes off. Then all the publishing houses will ride that wave until it hits the shore.

    If you have a new idea, it will be by sheer luck that your manuscript gets looked at. If you write something according to the trends, it might be glanced at but you still need to catch the commissioning editor or CPO on a very very very good day. Not just that but a good second of a good minute of a good hour of a good day.

    It's extremely depressing.

    You never thought your boss was a moron and that you could run the place so much better? It's not different with publishers. They aren't the literary experts they would have you believe. They are just regular people who are deciding what's worth publishing and what's not.

    The problem is that myself and the editor in question were new to the job. Editors do not have the power you think they do. The commissioning editor has vastly more influence than just your average copyeditor. But even the CE doesn't want to risk contradicting the CPO.

    And that's why so much crap gets published.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for this. It's what I've suspected for a long time.

    I think it might be different if you go for a small publishing house—one known as a niche publisher—but I think that's pretty much the standard from the big guns, from what I've heard.

    I find the well-believed adage that agents/publishers are always looking for a chance to reject a book to be incredibly depressing. How many great books from the past would have been ditched upon discovery of the first imperfection? I think that's just insane, really.

    People take years to write a book. I don't think they'd mind waiting a lot longer for a response from a potential agent, if they knew the agent was going to make a reasonable attempt to read it and then help to edit the good ones. The idea that you can spend years perfecting your book and then have it get dumped by an agent because they haven't had their coffee...? That's putting way too much power in the hands of salespeople—which is what they are.

    Thankfully, the self-publishing option is a realistic one now.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm in the process of reading an interesting book recommended by @GingerCoffee , entitled Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science To Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence, by Lisa Cron.

    She recommends these three elements be identified and included within the first couple of paragraphs or pages of the story, because this is what readers want to know AS THEY BEGIN READING:

    1) Whose story is it? (Identify the protagonist)

    2) What's happening here? (What is the immediate setting and what is going on?)

    3) What's at stake? (What is the protagonist hoping will happen/fearing won't happen?)

    This approach seems to make sense to me. And this should probably be taken into account even if you're beginning with a prologue. The prologue should also contain these elements, and not be just a history lesson or a worldbuilding exercise.

    I'm a fan of long, rather than short stories. However, I think making a reader wait for three chapters before these three elements get put in place is not a very good idea. The reader may not get the total picture right away, but you need to launch your story in the right direction, right from the first.

    I do believe that is the essence of a story's 'hook.' It's not so much a cleverly worded phrase, but a quick glimpse into what the story (the whole story) is going to be about. How the setting, characters and story problems are likely to intersect.

    We don't necessarily need to meet your 'villain' ...not happy with that word because it implies evil, which isn't always the case with an antagonist ...right away. But we do need to know that something is at stake for the protagonist that the appearance of a 'villain' might well upset.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
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  11. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    Oh dear!
    Thanks for your comments. I should have been a bit clearer in my question. I have been focussing entirely on the reader while writing which I think is the way to go, BUT in the last few months I have become more focussed on a publisher's eye (which is distracting and I'm going to stop it).

    In my first three chapters I have done all the main things:
    set up plot lines political etc
    the aims and current constraints for the main MC.
    There is action, threat from oppression, tension, from the world.

    What I am actually struggling with is the fine tuning. Trying to introduce a villain / opposing character within the first three chapters. May be you are right and I need to start the story later. It could be the problem.

    Does a villain have to be introduced within the first three chapters?
     
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  12. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Hey Haze, just look at my own ch1. There is no such thing as a villain there if you disregard that one time I mentioned a specific name in passing. I think it works fine, judging from the critiques I've gotten ;)

    Don't get too focused please :friend:
     
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  13. Necronox
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    Necronox Active Member

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    I have never heard this before, Why would an editor judge a book by only the first three chapters? (The rather appropriate saying comes to mind: Don't judge a book by it's cover) The only reasons why I could understand why an editor does not read any more is simply because they do not have the time or patience. I would venture a guess that simply due to the large amounts of submissions they get they would probably employ some form of a time-saving measures, although this one does seem rather strange...

    Come to think of it, I would find books rather dull if I only read the first three chapters, typically you don't sell a book because of the first three, but more by what follows after? Then again, I'm not into publishing, so maybe I'm just off. Besides, I would guess that books is very much like music - what currently sells will continue to be made until it sells no more. Something which seems to hold true with almost all forms of entertainment.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2015
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  14. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Yet the question of the OP is a valid one. A reader gets hooked or not within the first chapter, or at least the following ones..
     
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  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, not all books have a villain, so no, I don't think the villain has to be introduced in the first three chapters!

    But if there is a villain, he's probably a big part of the plot? He'd be the main "opposing force" your characters are working against? So I wouldn't think you'd need to introduce him as a character right away, but I think you should introduce his influence fairly quickly, if that makes sense?

    Read some of your favourite books (especially those published in the last ten years or so) and take a good look at how they open. That will probably give you a fair idea of what works.
     
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  16. Necronox
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    Necronox Active Member

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    That certainly makes sense, and certainly clearer. Do excuse me, I got the wrong message.
     
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  17. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    You have to introduce the main conflict, and that may or not be with the villain. With regard to my own work, the 'villain' is really only the catalyst for the main conflict, so introducing the main conflict makes sense in my eyes. :cool:
     
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  18. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Whether your book will get attention, the synopsis and query letter need to entice the publisher. Then the first few paragraphs need to hook them. If publishers are looking for the next big trend, and you've written trendy, your synopsis needs to get across that's what your book is.

    But if you've written a literary fiction masterpiece find the key points that suggest it truly is a masterpiece, or a thriller, or a mystery you can't put down. Then the first chapter, (maybe even the first couple paragraphs), needs to confirm for the agent or publisher that the book will deliver what the synopsis and query letter promised.

    You write the book you want to write, and hopefully the book you are proud of. But then you have to sell it. How you market it matters because if you don't get anyone to open the door, that masterpiece will sit idle.
     
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  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I typically give a book the first 10 pages, to get an idea of whether I will continue further reading it or not. The most modern book I have started came out in 2010, and is a Mystery/Crime (not my preferred genre, but hey variety is nice). I am 108 pages in and the MC still has no idea who the criminal is. So I guess the murder would be the main conflict for the story.

    So I don't think you even need a defining antagonist, so much as you need to have a well planned out conflict. Then again I am still green when it comes to writing, so what the hell would I know. :p
     
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  20. Haze-world
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    Haze-world Senior Member Supporter

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    Good. I have fully introduced the villain's influence.
    Thanks again
     
  21. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I like this thought.
     
  22. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    I think it's important, yes. I like what troll said and I agree that anything can work without prediction, but form-wise I think it's a good idea. If one is interested in selling a book, that is.
     
  23. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    You have to consider that agents, at least (I imagine editors are more likely to be paid by the hour), make zero money from reading the manuscripts themselves. The only money they get is when they land a contract for themselves and their client, the author.
    With that in mind, of course they reject stuff as quickly as they can. Every second they spend reading one manuscript that they ultimately reject is essentially wasted time, and everyone wants to minimise that. At the first whiff of the suspicion that any given MS might not be worth their time, they drop it.
    They don't have the time in the day, nor the budget to seriously consider the entirety of everything which crosses their desk.
     
  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not particularly, because I think this should come naturally if you're starting the book at the right place. If there are no hooks or intrigue in your first few chapters, and you have to artificially insert them to grab the attention of an agent/publisher, you're starting your story too early. If you begin just before the central conflict arises, or begin by showing a conflict that's going to be resolved in the book, how can there be no hook?

    On the other hand I'm really not convinced that your opening line has to come with a bam, and that your first page has to be shit-hot in terms of action and intrigue. Yes, agents/publishers are looking for the first reason to bin your manuscript, but when you consider how much unedited, badly written rubbish they are sent, something that meets submission guidelines and is well written in terms of SPAG isn't going to end up in the bin because there are no car chases or dragon fights in the first paragraph.
     
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  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I believe you don't have to 'craft' your beginning when you first start writing. Obviously you'll start with something, but I think it's best to wait till your story is finished before meticulously crafting the opening few pages. Your beginning should launch the reader in the right direction, and that direction might change a bit as you write.

    You might want to shift emphasis, or set up a resonance that will hit the reader later on, or create an idea the reader will keep in mind as they read, or even foreshadow a crucial scene that will happen near the end. Or use words that will find an echo later in the story.

    I wouldn't worry too much about perfecting the beginning until you get to the final editing stage. Few journeys turn out exactly as you expect, when you start out on them. Give your story room to breathe. When it's over, you'll know what it all meant, and you can start your readers down the right path.
     
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