Please welcome guest posters Evan Marshall & Martha Jewett.
At Evan’s literary agency, most of the novels that get rejected are rejected before page 1 is even turned over. Why? Because the way you start your novel says everything about whether you know what you’re doing. If you make any of the mistakes below, chances are good your novel won’t make it to page 2.
Starting with background. Don’t tell us about what led up to the scene on page 10. Start with page 10! Many writers are reluctant to take this advice because they believe readers won’t care about characters they know nothing about. That’s untrue. Start with one of your main characters in action, and spoon feed us the vital information—but no more!—up front. There’s plenty of time to fill us in on characters’ backgrounds later.
Starting in summary. Don’t start your novel so it reads like a synopsis. In our novel-writing system The Marshall Plan®, we call this “summary mode.” It’s not an appropriate way to start a novel because it distances the reader. Start with blow-by-blow action and dialogue.
Starting with a weather report. Believe it or not, this is the most common mistake. For some reason, beginning writers think we desperately need to know if there’s a breeze, or a cloudless sky, or a biting cold. Resist this impulse. No one really cares. Don’t start with things; start with people.
Starting with description. This is related to the item above. Not only do readers not want to know what the weather was like that day, they also don’t want to know what the forest, field, house, street looks like—unless that information is vital to understanding the action that’s taking place. For instance, if your main character is stuck in a taxi on Park Avenue at lunchtime and it’s making her late for the most important interview of her life, then yes, in this case we need to know about the traffic.
Starting with many characters at once. Ideally you’ll start with one character, your main character. Another character interacting with this character is OK, but you need to make it crystal clear who’s speaking and who’s doing what. If you bring in more characters in scenes that take place, say, at a meeting, or a party, your reader is going to get awfully confused awfully soon . . . and that’s not a good way to start a novel.
Avoid these five start-of-novel no-no’s and your novel will have an excellent chance of making it well past page 1.
Martha Jewett is a memoir advocate, editorial expert with an outstanding track record in book publishing, and co-creator of The Marshall Plan® series, a structured approach to writing fiction and nonfiction which helps writers get great results fast. She is co-author with Evan Marshall of The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software. Martha worked as a business book editor at major New York publishers including John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Harper. She collaborated with authors to reach the widest possible audience—as developmental editor, acquisitions editor, editorial consultant, ghost writer, and independent literary agent. She was awarded The McGraw-Hill Corporate Award for Editorial Excellence. She blogs about memoir writing at writeyourmemoir.com.
Their latest book is How to Bring Your Memoir to Life. http://themarshallplan.net/howtobringyourmemoirtolife.htm
6 months ago