After completing revision number 182 on my WIP, I believed I was ready for the next step. I polished my manuscript, found agents accepting unsolicited queries, put together my query, and sent it off. What followed was a tumultuous two weeks of rejection after rejection. Well, shit. These form rejections meant something was wrong with my query or manuscript, so I set about fixing things.
For the next 14 Mondays, I will be sharing what I have learned on my quest for query and manuscript perfection. Today we are starting with those ever important first pages. Even if you are looking to publish independently, those first pages will make or break your success as a writer.
Shortly after recovering from the pain of rejection, I pulled myself up, off of the ground, and began hunting for help. I signed up for a first-pages Bootcamp from Writer’s Digest. If you have not checked out their resources, you should do so. They have a ton of opportunities to get your work in front of literary agents and get feedback. Not all of us are in a place where we can afford to drop that kind of money on our manuscripts, so I thought I would share what I learned.
The format of this 1-on-1 workshop started with learning the agent’s tips on how best to start your manuscript and how not to start your manuscript.
Her first tip was to identify what is different about your story. What sets it apart from all the other stories like it, especially those bestsellers? If you can’t answer this, you have some reading homework. If you can answer this question, then consider how you might be able to convey that uniqueness in the first ten pages, and in the first page if possible.
Here are some ways to set yourself apart:
- Point of View
Consider what has been done, and how you can change your story up to create something new.
Here were her rules on what not to do:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Never open a book with a prologue.
- Never open a book with a dream, or a character waking up.
- Never open a book with a character alone and thinking.
So I sent in my first pages, eager for feedback. Here is the original first page that I sent her:
And here’s the feedback I got:
This is very good. You have a good grasp of the elements of fiction and it shows. Your heroine and hero are strong and relatable characters and the first thing you do is put them at odds. So of course our interest is piqued. Well done!
You’ve given both intriguing backstories, and you’ve done some cool world-building. The writing itself is good.
That said, there are some issues that you’ll need to address before you shop:
1) The names are very confusing, especially when:
A) so many of the names/titles are hard to spell and pronounce
B) so many are too similar to one another.
C) some are too similar to real names, eg Tibetitian.
Don’t get carried away with names when you’re writing fantasy. Writers trip over them, and reading commercial fiction and should not be exercise reminding readers of slogging through the names in War and Peace (I snorted my coffee when I read this). Keep it simple. Think of JK Rowling in the Harry Potter series; she uses fascinating names but they don’t slow the story down.
2) You should milk the drama here, by:
A) trimming back the backstory and the info dumping. Remember what you needed to know to write the story is not what the reader needs to know to read it. Don’t explain so much, or forecast so much. Go through and identify all the backstory and info dumping and cut it by two/thirds. Your pacing will pick up immediately.
B) building out the action in that scene with the heroine and the Ponko. (This comes in the next couple pages, which I didn’t share with you. The take-away from this is that I had some good action, but I didn’t develope it as much as I could.)
3) Nail your USP. This is a genre that is particularly tough to break it into because so many stories sound like every other story. It’s hard to avoid the derivative. I can’t tell from the sampling here if there’s anything about your story that will set it apart from the competition–you need to establish that right away.
Whoa, baby. So much for polished, right? What I loved about this was that it caught things my critiquers had not, such as the names. I had food for thought, and I realized I hadn’t stopped to consider my USP (unique selling point). Professional opinions are valuable! Seek them out and get them whenever possible.
After we received the feedback, we got a chance to revise and resubmit to see how well we did on our revisions. Here is my revised first page:
This was her feedback this time:
Much better. I hope you can see how this flows much better. Keep it up and you’ll be well on your way.
I made the biggest and best changes in the next couple of pages after my first page. I believe it was those changes she was commending. My first page still has some huge issues, namely too much exposition. The biggest takeaway from this is to milk the drama and action. Start off in the thick of things and get your readers thinking.
I took this first page to San Francisco with me, and it got critiqued by an Agent Panel! Tune in next Monday and I will share what I learned during the panel.
Note: All writing posted on this blog is copyrighted and shall not be used without express written permission from the Author, Kelsey Stone. She’s happy to share, but you need to ask and attribute the work back to her. Play nice!