Tuesday, May 14, 2013

[Link] What NOT to Do When Beginning Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

by Chuck Sambuchino

In a previous Writer Unboxed column, I discussed the value of starting your story strong and how an “inside-out” approach to narrative action can help your case. But just as important as knowing what to do when beginning your novel is knowing what not to do.

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines — sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter 1 approaches are overused and cliche, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

FALSE BEGINNINGS

“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
- Cricket Freeman, The August Agency

“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
- Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

IN SCIENCE FICTION

“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

PROLOGUES

“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
- Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
- Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
- Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

EXPOSITION/DESCRIPTION

“Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition – when they go beyond what is necessary for simply ‘setting the scene.’ I want to feel as if I’m in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I’m feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.”
- Peter Miller, PMA Literary and Film Management

“The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land.”
- Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

“I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions. For example: ‘She had eyes the color of a summer sky and long blonde hair that fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her petite nose was the perfect size for her heart-shaped face. Her azure dress—with the empire waist and long, tight sleeves—sported tiny pearl buttons down the bodice. Ivory lace peeked out of the hem in front, blah, blah.’ Who cares! Work it into the story.”
- Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Continue reading: http://writerunboxed.com/2013/04/22/april/