Posts Tagged ‘First Fifty Pages’

Ever wonder why most manuscripts are rejected?

The answer is easy, it is because of what is in or actually what isn’t in the first fifty pages.

This may seem unfair to judge something only on the first few pages. You should feel lucky if your book is rejected after an agent read the first fifty pages. Most manuscripts get rejected from the first line or paragraph.

Again, that may seem unfair, but if you had a hundred manuscripts in your slush pile to read through to make way for tomorrow hundred new submission, you would find tricks to move onto the next one.

Most agents and editors are actually hoping that the manuscript the pick up and read will give them a reason to keep reading. They aren’t looking to reject they want new material to publish.

You may be wondering why the first fifty pages matter on the first draft?

Good question. I have already said the purpose of the first draft is to get it written. We have covered the first line and first chapter already, which you can find (first line) here and (first chapter) here.

The best answer is, it doesn’t matter. Especially if you are writing your first ever first draft. Writing it is more important. What we are covering today is tips to make ways to make drafts 2 and beyond a little less work.

Let’s face it a lot of the reasons agents and editors reject manuscripts is because of a lot of things weren’t done in later drafts.

However, there are four important things if you make sure you have in the first draft, you won’t ever have to worry about adding it in in later drafts. Jeff Gerke writerThey are:

Jeff Gerke writer the book The First Fifty Pages, five things he looks for in a new book in the first fifty pages are:

  • Introduce your main character
  • Establish your story world
  • Set up the plot’s conflict
  • Begin your hero’s inner journey
  • Write an amazing opening line and terrific first page

Wait that is five things.

Yes, the last one is something to keep in the back of your mind while writing the first draft. After you write the first line and page, try to figure out how to make it better.

However, let this be done in the subconscious. We don’t want it to distract you from writing the rest of the first draft.

Let’s look at the other four things in a little more detail.

First, we need to introduce the main character. Now, this should be the first person we meet, usually.

Why?

That’s simple, it tells the reader that this person is important. If we don’t meet the main character quickly then we will wonder why. If you go the route of introducing the main character, later on, it still better be in the first fifty pages.

If you go the route of introducing the main character, later on, it still better be in the first fifty pages.

J.K. Rowling did this in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. We meet Uncle Veron Dursley and his wife Aunt Petunia. These two characters are very important in the Harry Potter world. How they treat Harry is what helps Harry determine who is a good person and who isn’t.

It is through Uncle Veron eyes we get the sense of something big has happened and it’s not normal. When we meet Harry at the end of chapter one and see he is the reason and is only a baby we understand he is special. Also, we feel sorry for him having to go live with such horrible people.

Next is you must establish the world that the story exists in.

If you have a world where magic exists, with magical creatures live in, and they don’t shot up until the last third of the book, what do you think is going to happen when the reader gets to that reveal?

Sure you can foreshadow it, but if done wrong it will piss off the reader and they will set the book down and never read it again.

Keeping with Harry Potter, Rowling showed hints of magic throughout the first chapter right up until we meet Dumbledore where he pulls light from lamp posts. Then Professor McGonagall morphs from a cat into a person. Then finally, we see Hagrid come in on a flying motorcycle. Clearly magic is possible in this world.

Clearly magic is possible in this world.

She tops it off when Harry himself uses magic for the first at the end of chapter two while he is at the zoo.

It is clearly established that this world has magic. Do the same with your story.

Third, you better set up the plot.

Does that mean we know where we are going or even how it will end?

No!

What you need to do is make sure by the time we finish the book, the reader can look back at the beginning and see how it sets up what happens at the end.

Some of the worst set ups come half way through the manuscript and all that tells an agent is that you aren’t knowledgeable enough to know where your story starts.

Like the plot of the book, you need to introduce the characters internal journey. How are they going to change? Are they going to change

How are they going to change? Are they going to change

Are they going to change?

Is it for the best or worst?

All we need to know is what the character wants and why and how it might affect their actions throughout the story.

If you have those four things within your first draft, you are golden.

Sure they will probably need tweaking and maybe fleshing out.

What you won’t have to do is add any of them in.

Having to add one or more of those in, affects the rest of the book.

Here are a few other things that will help you in the editing process after you have completed the first draft. First thing on this list from  Writers Digest, is good to know.

Seeing Through the Veil was going to start with a dream scene.

  • Do you start with a dream scenario? Because that’s a quick path to rejection.
  • Does your story have an engaging hook?
  • Do you jump to a new viewpoint character too early?
  • Is there enough conflict?
  • Is there something at stake for your hero?
  • How strong is your first line? Make sure you lead off with something that will catch an agent or editor from the very beginning.
  • Are you telling instead of showing? Remember the old writing adage “show don’t tell.”
  • Double check your point-of-view. Make sure you don’t have any errors or shifts in POV.
  • Check for stilted dialogue.
  • Are there inadequate descriptions of characters and settings (or details that are introduced to the reader too late)?
  • Make sure your characters have depth.
  • Is there a lack of beats for pacing and description?
  • Are you going into flashbacks too early in the story?

We are not going to go over them, they are just there for you know for when you start to edit and polish the first fifty pages.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the first fifty pages. Please post a comment below, and if you liked what you read, please follow me. Today’s post is part of an ongoing series on First Drafts. You can find all the posts so far under the link First Drafts in the toolbar. I post a Weekly Writing Wrap-up every Monday on how my writing and story development week went. You can also find me on Twitter @timrgreenebooks.

In the beginning, first 250 words the author choose sucked and that was all of that book I read.
Okay, that is clearly an over exaggeration of the importance of making sure the first page of your book awesome. Surely, no one stops reading a book based on the first word, let alone the first sentence or paragraph… Oh wait, my roommate does. Because one person does it must mean everyone does it, oh look another exaggeration. Unless the first word, sentence or paragraph are horribly written, most people would not stop reading a book solely on that. First page, possible, but according to Jeff Gerke, author of The First Fifty Pages, not having a good fifty pages could cause your readers to put your book down and not pick it back up. Especially if those readers are an agent or an editor reading to see if they want to represent you, or buy your book. Having a coma missing could be a reason an agent could decide not to represent you, well maybe not just a coma. Agents and Editors work load is so loaded when they finally sit down to read through their slush pile to find new talent, which Gerke constantly reminds you in his book they want to love. They don’t want to reject you, the future of their business and their careers depend on find new talented authors. They just know that it is less likely your manuscript will be good, because they see more crap then gold.
Before I get too far along, this is not a review of Gerke book, I am still reading it and I am about half way through, well more like sixty percent. I skipped everything to chapter twelve, the second to last chapter where he actually talks about the first page of your novel. I assure you there is a reason to his madness on why he waits that late in the book to cover the book, and I’ll go into that in my review. It was after reading that book I decide to read the whole book, and I am glad I am, again more on that in my review. My goal of this post it more about why I picked up his book and my fascination with he first page.
For those who maybe their first time reading my blog, lately I have returned to the first book series I have wrote, well first novel. After massive changes and eleven years since I wrote the first draft, I have found the issues with the series and ready to work on it again. I want to make the first draft the best I can while filling in the blank spots on my outline, and nailing things like character voice of my character. Being a first person POV, I really need to nail that voice, which by the way I have found and think I am doing very good with the little writing I have done. The day I woke up, with Kiana’s voice clearly in my head, seriously I could feel on my head where the voice was talking from. I knew I just had to sit down and write a scene. Not chapter or scenes, just a scene, if you’re a writer you know that feeling you get when you just have to start writing that day, maybe even that second. Luckily, mine was last Monday and didn’t need to get it down the second I woke up.
The reason was, on my outline the opening scene is a dream where Kiana isn’t even in, and the main reason I hadn’t written anything before this was I wasn’t sure how to go about writing this dream from first person when we haven’t met yet. I got up and really thought about it and decided to move that scene later. After a little rearranging, I had a better first scene, yet I wanted to know more about writing the first page. Google “First Page of your Novel” and you will find maybe six articles that were not that helpful, maybe one was can’t remember. Then I remember seeing the book on the first fifty pages, which I knew about before my search, but I didn’t care about the first fifty pages, I cared about page one. After no really help from my search, I checked my kindle to find that book I already had, not read. So I opened up to the table of content and saw chapter twelve covered the first page. I jumped to it and read it. Half way through the chapter I came to this about how not to start your novel.

“And … don’t start by someone getting out of a car, okay? Or having a dream that she’ll then wake up from.” Gerke, Jeff. The First 50 Pages (Kindle Location 2824).

I cannot tell you how good I felt about make the changes to my outline after reading that part. Though I do want to point out that J.K Rowling starts book four of Harry Potter this way. However, I contest she is allowed to do this, because the way she wrote it, it was a scene taking place else where that Harry sees through his link with He Who Shall Not Be Named! Ops Spoilers! Also, it’s the forth book in the series the book is going to be published. Besides that, I was happy with my decision. After reading that chapter I decided go back and read the whole thing, because he cover other stuff on what your first fifty pages must accomplish to improve your chances of getting picked up by an agent/bought by an editor. Gerke does say making sure everything he covers does not mean you will, it greatly improves your chances.
Putting the book down I sat to write, and that nagging feeling to write was gone, but after some lunch and a shower the feeling returned, but more cautious. After I wrote I ended up re-writing that scene again on Tuesday differently, and I liked how it came out better for many reasons, which I am not going to go into. I am still nervous about first few pages of the book, but I moved on knowing I can fix the idea in my head write now, after I finish the draft. Partly it is because I haven’t finished the book, but after the chapter I read this morning, I think I know a lot of what you need in the first fifty pages, I am just nervous. Normally, I rush through the first draft, because early in my writing endeavors Randy Ingermanson, that the faster you write your novel the more you can write. While that is great advice, I have been writing since 2004 really trying to get a novel published, and all I got is three full length novels written that are no where close to being ready to be put out.
Having read many books on writing, I thought I knew what I needed to know about the important parts, craft how to develop a novel, Point of Voice, voice, characters, etc. Yet, one of my weakest points is that I rushed through the first draft, leaving far more mistakes then I should, and a mess that I have to fix in the second and I don’t. I realize that speed is good, but starting out slow is better for me right now. I have only written three times and two of them were the start of the book. Also, instead of writing chapters at a time, I am writing scenes and will figure out chapters they fit in later.
It is easy to over look the beginning of your novel, because it can be usually slow paced and not as exciting, which Gerke suggests find a sport that is exciting to start the novel at or start where you can show character. I kind of found both, the first page opens with character but within the first ten to fifteen pages we will get some action. Something else I just heard from author K M. Weiland on her podcast this morning, how when she gets about twenty-five percent through her novel she goes back to do some editing, to take a break from writing as well to help get a feel for the flow of the story. I do my editing in the evenings on the stuff I wrote the day before to allow time away from it, but mostly just to fixes errors and quickly re-writes for anything that clearly needs it. However, that is scene by scene, I won’t get too much of a sense of how it is going, reading it all together will. Time will tell, but I think I will give it a try.
Hopefully, I will get the rest of the First Fifty Pages done this week, since 60 hour a week summer job will be starting soon, and my free time I am going to have to be very selective. Excited, I get to work in my field this summer. No Retail Job this summer, oh yeah baby. Look for my review, and hopefully some interviews from some authors, published and non-published. Also, by the end of the night I should have a list of all the books I have read on writing with a review score. The reviews will come later.
Links to the authors sites I mentioned in this post: Jeff Gerke, K M. Weiland Helping Writers Become Authors, and Randy Ingermanson Advanced Ficition Writing (takes you to the blog).
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