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the craft. your first five novel pages.
More like the general introduction to your book. | 11.23.20
When you embark on the process of querying, you will notice that all agents have varying sets of guidelines. Some solely want a query letter, others the query and 5-10 pages of a sample, and so on. The very first feedback I received from an agent was that they wanted to know more about my character from the sample pages. That sent me into a space of dissecting those first pages to ensure that I was drawing the reader in a way that would make them want to read more.
Now, the first five pages or really the first chapter in general of your book is important, but just remember to take most of these tools throughout the whole book. What you don’t want is to have a great intro and subsequently the rest of the book falls flat. But since we focused on article introductions last week, I wanted to spend some time in the creative writing world as well.
My introduction to my debut novel has been reworked A LOT! Same general starting point, but I had to do a lot of surgery to help you get to know Carli right away. I wanted to make sure you were invested from the start to keep you turning the pages and hopefully to get through the rest of the book. I want to share with you some tips on book intros, first chapters, first pages. This is not an exhaustive list. Please know that probably nothing I ever share is.
The first thing I will say has absolutely nothing to do with your writing. It’s actually to read the first chapter of other books. One thing I noticed when I did this was that I tend to start my stories at the inciting incident without giving an exposition of who my character is, what their everyday life is like, and what led to the big action that propels the rest of the story. An inciting incident is an event that sets the main character or characters on the journey that will occupy them throughout the narrative according to Masterclass.com.
I still approach the stories in a way that comes naturally to me. But what I’ve started to do is after I’ve written where I think it starts, I go back and add some of that really important exposition in the revision process.
Reading other writers is IMPORTANT education as a writer.
HOMEWORK: I want to encourage you to read the introductions to 2-3 other books and break it down. Who is the protagonist? What is their goal? What are the obstacles that stand in the way? What’s the inciting incident?
Once we start writing, the first thing I will say is to draw us into your character. Why should we care? What is going to have a reader relate to your character? Or if your reader is nothing like the character, what is going to make them interesting? There is emotional involvement in the stories that we love the most. Something resonates much deeper in us to keep us turning the page. Or at the least, we find the person exciting as a third party to the story. Part of that is the exposition. Bring us into that person’s world and what life is like for them in this fictional world.
Establish your character’s goal. It may not be the whole of it, but it should at least give us an idea. These can also be referred to as the stakes. In Don’t Read the Comments, we know that Divya is trying to get enough going with her gaming in order to be able to help her mother climb out of the financial hole that was left by her parents splitting. So much more unfolds, but at the core, we know that this is what she’s after.
Action vs. Introspection. It’s a common issue for newer writers to start their stories with their main character thinking a lot. There is always a place for those introspective moments, especially in the first-person narrative, but it’s not the beginning when you really want to draw the reader in. Something needs to actually be happening.
Inciting incident. In Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, the part that propels the story forward is when Emira is accosted by the security guard in the supermarket with the young girl she babysits. At that convergence, so much of the story begins. There has to be a “what” that causes everything that happens after the fact.
Generally, you also want to be sure that you’re establishing time, season, location. Which sounds like DUH! But I had a lot of those things in my head and not necessarily in the text. I laughed at my editor’s notes that were like “what season is this again?” Sometimes as writers, we’re so enveloped in the story, that we forget those little things called details.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t fall in love with your intro. Yes, even after you’ve done all the work, nine times out of ten, things change. Stories take on lives of their own sometimes even as we plan and outline. So, just know that once you’re finished with your whole draft, you should reread your intro to see if it still fits with the rest of the story. Don’t be afraid to move things around, shift, or delete things that just don’t add to your project.
And maybe this is more like a P.S. but I want to make sure to say that sometimes a novel may slip through a crack that has none of these things. Lol. Please note these are some general guidelines and sometimes we try to reinvent the wheel when certain things just work. So, if you have some creative ideas on starting your book, TRY THEM! Don’t be afraid of that. I’m just letting you in on some insight from my perspective in this journey so far. There is still so much I’m looking forward to learning.
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