As I revise my current Work in Progress, I’m paying close attention to the first ten pages. Why? Most agents I’ve looked up want to see the first ten pages – some want more. There’s one big agent I have my heart set on – she wants ten. The drafting process isn't hard for me. I'm not a complete pantser. I outline every story beforehand but I deviate from the outline as I go.
Revising and editing, however, is hard for me. As it probably is for every writer that is willing to put in the work to craft a story that is worth 6 hours (or more) of your reader's time.
What am I doing to ensure those first pages are written as tight and clean as possible? What am I doing to ensure there is enough in these pages to keep her reading? What am I doing to ensure she feels that all-important connection to my main character?
Here’s a list things I’ve done to improve my manuscript with the above key elements in mind:
Start with a hook – a hook doesn’t have to be gimmicky. It has to draw the reader in. It has to make a statement that this story is worth reading. It has to make the reader want to read on. It has to make them ask a question – Why did that happen? How did that happen? When did that happen? What just happened? If you can do that, you’ve hooked the reader.
Introduce your main character- in the first ten pages your reader should have an understanding of who your MC is. They might not know everything there is about the character (they should NOT know everything about the character at this point. It’s too soon) but they should have a sense of who this person is and whether they like them or can root for them in the story. – A quick aside – The reader does not have to like your main character but they do have to root for the main character. If they are unable to root for them to win, there is no investment in the story. They won’t care if you have Samantha get hit by an Ice Cream truck and lose both her legs while crossing the street. They’ll shrug at best and at worst, they’ll put your book down.
Present a problem – if you haven’t hinted at some type of drama in the first ten pages, I won’t keep reading. I need to know that something is going to happen to this person that I really like and I want to see how this person solves/or comes through it. You don’t have to present every issue in the first ten pages though. But you must show the reader that not all is perfect in the MC’s world.
Show, Don’t tell – I know this piece of advice is everywhere. But it is the absolute truth. Nothing pulls me out of a story quicker than the author talking to me. Let the characters move the story forward with dialogue. There’s going to be times when you have to tell and not show but choose those instances wisely. Engage the five senses in your scenes to help with the showing.
No info dumping - There shouldn’t be huge chunks of prose about what happened before the story started. Or don’t try to explain who a character is through giant clumps of exposition. Weave the backstory into the manuscript organically – through dialogue, or character action. I know this can be difficult, especially for fantasy and science fiction writers, because you have to build worlds and explain how those worlds work. I know. I write Young Adult science fiction and fantasy. If I can do it, you can to.
This list isn’t all encompassing. There are other things to look for but these are the key elements I’m looking to hone. These are the things I’ve been working to perfect in my manuscript. I’ll dive into each area in depth in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
Have a great day. Read a book and smile!