About Those First 30 Pages…

Beagle-reading

Kristin Nelson has a great post today on the top two reasons she passes on sample pages and, as usual, she’s spot on.The prime death knell with reading the first 30 pages of a manuscript is a lack of red meat. Sure, you may have a ton of action going on, or great dialog, but it needs to be a set up of the plot.

Kristin suggests that authors read their first 30 pages, and outline the plot points in a list list by chapter.  Don’t summarize the chapter, simply list the action found in it.

Kristin says that if you find…

1) The work is missing a plot catalyst to really start the story (so there is a lot going on action-wise but no actual story unfolding).

2) There is nothing at stake for the main character.

…then you might think about going back to the drawing board. I run into this a lot, so I’m glad Kristin blogged about it. If your first 30 pages don’t give the reader a solid idea where the story is going and what’s at stake for the main character, then they’re going to close the book. *Ungently.

Take a look at your first 30 pages. Do you feel those pages set up the plot and present the high stakes for the main character?

*Yes, I realize “ungently” isn’t a real word

8 Responses to About Those First 30 Pages…

  1. Great post! I read a book called THE FIRST FIVE PAGES and it really changed how I approached writing my novel. I wondered why I was not having any luck when I sent it out and I realized my book suffered from “it doesn’t get good until the half-way point,” which doesn’t work when most editors/agents don’t have the time or energy to read a novel from front to back, hoping it will eventually “get good.” I tell my students, if the good stuff comes later, then maybe that point in the story is where you need to start.

  2. John Allan says:

    Interesting. Because I picked up almost the first book that came to hand and had a quick run through the first 30+, single spaced, pages. The prologue is no more than the merest hint at the plot; background, in fact. The remainder has no direct connection to the plot at all. And, yes, I did enjoy reading Mark Giminez’s ‘The Common Lawyer’.

  3. ericjbaker says:

    It’s important for writers to empathize with our potential readers. I’ll get bored if nothing of consequence happens within 10 pages, much less 30.

    Thanks for the wise words, as usual.

  4. Angela, you’d be amazed at how many times I heard back from authors I’ve rejected, saying, “You didn’t give it enough time! It really picks up halfway through the book.”

    Halfway through the book?

    John, I’ve read books like that as well, and this brings up the notion of generalities. In general, this is a good thing to pay special attention to. Just because one author pulls it off doesn’t mean we can.

  5. That”s how I read too. Either it grabs me to begin with or it’s gone. So stands to reason my writing should do the same.

  6. John, I read the preview pages of THE COMMON LAWYER and I think because of the genre he writes in, his plot choices make sense. But more important than that, the pacing was done quite nicely. I think certain types of fiction demand the plot to be revealed at a slower rate than others, but as long as there is energy in the story (the reader is given tidbits of information/details that make them want to keep reading), then I think the reader will hang in there. Dan Brown does the same. So does Clive Cussler and James Patterson. Finally, he has built up an audience of readers who are comfortable with how he tells a story. New authors don’t necessarily get the same “buy” that a seasoned, published author will get.

  7. Val says:

    Love your post, as always. And better to think about those first 30 pages before writing the next 200. : )

  8. Janet Givens says:

    My first thirty pages changed quite a bit after I wrote the final 30.

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