1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    First 10 Pages

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Steerpike, Apr 25, 2016.

    I listened to a talk over the weekend from an author with a few published books under her belt and one in front of an editor right now. The premise of the talk was that you have one page to pique the interest of an editor or agent, and maybe up to ten pages to sustain that interest, once piqued. The author had a lot of advice as to what the first page should include, and what the first ten pages should conclude. I thought I'd share that information here. Note, I did not find myself agreeing with the speaker on everything, and much of this is open to debate. I'm sharing it for informational purposes, for people to take and/or leave as they wish, much as I did after the talk. There are plenty of published exceptions to everything below, but the author believed, from her experience and in talking to agents and editors, that having these things will greatly improve your chances of getting published.

    First Page Essentials:

    The author was of the view that the following:

    1. A powerful first sentence that cuts to the meat of the story being told.
    2. An introduction to the protagonist, at the very least, and possibly other important characters.
    3. A sense of time and place.
    4. A hint at the main conflict of the story.
    5. Other devices to pique the reader's interest (action, unique voice or characterization, unusual setting, questions posed, contradictions, etc.).
    The author then presented the following "checklist" to apply to the first page of your novel:

    1. Is my first sentence as compelling, beautiful, and important to the story as it can be?
    2. Have I introduced my protagonist?
    3. What does my reader know about the protagonist (i.e. is it compelling, interesting etc.)?
    4. Have I introduced at least one other character?
    5. Is there a sense of time and place?
    6. Have I incorporated some other device to pique the reader's interest (see above)?
    7. Am I telling or showing? Am I starting with some action or hook?
    8. Is there a conflict emerging by the end of the first page?
    First Ten Pages Essentials:

    The author believed that the first ten pages should absolutely have all three of the following:

    1. A strong or unique voice.
    2. A clear setup of the story.
    3. A hook.
    The following checklist was provided to apply to the first ten pages of your novel:

    1. Has a unique voice been established? Is it consistent (in other words, don't open with a strong voice on page one, but find that voice fading by the time you hit page ten. Maintain it.)?
    2. List all of the things the reader knows about the protagonist by the end of the ten pages. Is it enough? It is interesting/compelling?
    3. Do other characters overshadow the interests of the protagonist?
    4. Has the antagonist been introduced? He/she should be (directly or indirectly).
    5. Does my protagonist have a clear goal? This goal may change as the story progresses, but she should have a clear goal for the moment, by this time in the story.
    6. Is there space for the character to make a change over the course of the story, or for their worldview to change?
    7. Have I introduced the main conflict or significant tension?
    8. Does the beginning of the story predict the end? Not overtly, or in a spoiler sense, but the author was the view that the beginning should somehow foreshadow the ending.
    9. Go through the story and highlight all the showing in one color, and all the telling a separate color. Eliminate the telling and replace with showing (this is the advice I disagreed with most strongly).
    So, there you have it. Lots of room to debate, but I thought it would be useful to pass along at least one person's view from within the industry.
     
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  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm still working on a clear goal for my mc. I think I have to work in layers something I struggle to come to terms with and where most of my frustration comes from. I need several drafts. One or two just to figure out what's what.
    All good advice though. I'm on another site where we do hook critiques - the first page of the story - and it's amazing how many writers trip up on 3. A sense of time and place.
     
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  3. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    That one confuses me a bit. Did she say how the agent/editor was going to tell if there was end-foreshadowing if they only read the first ten pages?
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, holy shit. Turns out I've actually ticked all the boxes (except coloring the showing/telling and removing the telling, which is just plain silly.) And then I go and spoil it all by calling it something stupid like a Prologue! :) Tsk.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm not entirely sure. I included this because it was on the list that the author handed out. It wasn't discussed a lot. My sense is that it was nothing overt, but enough to give the agent or editor confidence that you had things in hand and knew where you were going with the story. Not any direct indication of the resolution.
     
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  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Haha! I just read another advice column this morning providing tips for how to produce the best opening you can, and one of the subheadings was entitled "Skip the fucking prologue." But I didn't share it here, because dead horses and all that :D
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, you're right. I love the kind of foreshadowing that you don't recognise until the foreshadowed event occurs. Then it's HEY! I should have seen that coming, shouldn't I. Neato!

    Maybe the woman meant 'create a sense of foreboding or anticipation or unease?' I'd go along with that.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It was more in the context of letting the agent or editor know that they were dealing with someone who knew exactly what they were doing and where they were going with the story. Not someone who could produce a great opening and then get lost in the weeds 1/3 through the novel, so that it never lives up to the promise of the opening. At least, that's how I took it. I think 'predict' is a bad word, but that's what she used in her handout.
     
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Basically don't be David Lynch.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    What was your reason for disagreeing with the last part? And what else didn't you like?
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Pauline - show don't tell, as an absolute, is bollocks, in my view. Novels are a combination of showing and telling. I don't see why the first ten pages should be different, and a lot of novels have telling in the beginning.

    I also don't think the MC needs to show up on page 1. Often she does, but not always. I think the first sentence should be as best as it can possibly be, but I'm not convinced it always has to go straight to the heart of the story. Again, based on experiences as a reader. The advice above isn't bad, but I wouldn't look at it as an exclusive formula for success.
     
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  13. AASmith
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    AASmith Contributing Member

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    I didnt read that last list (too much reading but I appreciate it!) but I agree with the first two for sure. When I decide whether to buy a book the first few sentences have to be good enough to draw me in. If so I will keep reading, but it all comes down to the first paragraph or two. If its not good, if I have no idea what the story is going to be able, then i dont continue reading.
     
  14. Pauline
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    Agree, there does need to be a mix of showing and telling. Personally I like to see the mc very early on, but it's not a deal breaker.
     
  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always had problems with show don't tell. If John walks to the car, he walks to the car. Trying to "show" that could in many but not necessarily all cases be bad writing. The only true way to show something is to use a camera, but we're not making movies here. On that, I think probably what she really means by show don't tell in the first ten pages is to make the first ten pages immersive and in the moment, rather than showing flashbacks and tangents, etc. That sort of gives the novel a very urgent quality.
     
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  16. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    I would definitely tell of someone walking to a car etc. I'm not even sure off the top of my head how else I'd want to do that. To me, anyway, I choose to show reactions and emotions wherever possible.
     
  17. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    Feel free to jump in and tell me if I'm not on the right tangent here, but my understanding of telling is narrative summary, and showing is when senses are used. Not just sight, but taste, sound, smell, and feel. So a flashback can either be shown or told.
     
  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    My worry is that, unfortunately, lots of people will.

    New writers who are focused on selling will snap these 'suggestions' up and they can easily become gospel, just like 'never write a prologue,' 'don't use adverbs,' 'show, don't tell' and other maxims that have recently become gospel. What's next? You MUST introduce your protagonist on the first page? You MUST introduce two characters on the first page? Or else your book goes immediately in the bin?

    And people think this isn't writing to formula? You might as well start every story with 'once upon a time, there was a king who had three sons.'


    There is nothing inherently wrong in what the author is suggesting. What would be wrong is assuming that all books have to do these things. Lots of successful books do not follow the same path as she did.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    @jannert this advice was from an author, not an agent.

    Why do so many threads have to devolve into agent bashing? :(
     
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  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're right. I missed that. :bigoops: I'm sorry. I'll edit my response accordingly.

    Done...
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
  21. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now that you mention it, there is something that's been bothering me for a while.

    According to a lot of interviews I've read, agents are looking for new writers who are enthusiastic about that agency, know the different books that the agent has already represented, are able to portray their own book as both similar and fresh to the books the agent has represented, and are willing to put significant time into promoting their own book.

    So my question is....what exactly is the AGENT doing!?!
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, "Show, don't tell" is the same as "Demonstrate, don't explain." It's not about visuals or sensory input. It's about demonstrating a fact rather than laboriously explaining it. John walking to the car could be showing, or it could be telling. It seems to me that it's most likely to be showing. Why is he walking to the car? What is that demonstrating?

    Is he walking to the car because someone said something that offends him, but rather than discussing the issue, he wants to step away?

    Is he walking to it because he's a detective at a murder scene, discussing theories, and he's just had an idea related to the car?

    Is he walking to the car because it's his wife's car and he wants to see if the cupholders hold two coffees, thus providing proof for his theory that she's been spending time with someone without telling him?

    By my definition of show/tell, any of the above is "showing", NOT "telling", if the action is not accompanied by an explanation of the action.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Selling a book to a publisher and getting a good price for it? Edited to add: And a fair and reasonable contract that reflects the author's preferences to the extent possible. That seems worthwhile to me.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's definitely not how I understand it. As I interpret the terms, narrative summary could be either showing or telling, and showing doesn't require the senses.
     
  25. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    "A sense of time and place."

    What you people think how much is enough? Time is pretty easy to set up (I guess), but the place? How accurately/vaguely?
     
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