Monday, February 20, 2012

Start Your Story: a post from TBA Intern Y

A while back we had a guest post from Intern X, on why your querying chances are better than you think, which you can find here:

Since I think the interns at TBA learn so much about what makes a great query, I asked another great TBA intern (who we will call Intern Y for the sake of clarity) for her thoughts on the topic. Here's what she has to tell us:


The slush pile is a mysterious and often magical place. It’s a rowdy room full of new characters, each holding their breath inside the written pages as they wait for their stories to be uncovered. Sometimes the stories aren’t ready, or they’re rushed, or not quite polished enough to be set free. But it’s a process, this creating new worlds business, and there’s little doubt that with perseverance and revision each story can find its voice ready to be heard.

A harsh reality in querying is that you have but a few pages to grip the agent with your opening. Sometimes you have less, only a few paragraphs to captivate your audience. This may seem severe, but if you go to buy a book, and the first few pages leave you yawning or confused as to what the story is about, are you really going to purchase it?

I have a suggestion for you, after pouring over queries and hunting story. One that may help if you find yourself not getting any bites or nibbles from agents. It’s something that Georgia McBride, founder of YALITCHAT.org, shares with writers in her self-editing and revision webinar. A directive that breaks down the opening of story, and where it should begin.

“Start your story in the moment and place where your characters life will never be the same.”

Open your novel at the moment when this person’s life changes – when their story begins. If you read your introduction and it doesn’t start here, consider this: have you revised the opening since you first wrote the book? If you haven’t, chances are that you started out not knowing how the story would unfold, and let the character lead the way.

So, consider your story. In your opening, where is your protagonist? Are they doing something mundane like flossing? Are they dreaming, or rambling through a monologue, giving the reader too much information before we even know what they’re about? Are you writing the moment that will change their life and set them on the first stages of this unstoppable journey they’re about to take? Or are you starting at point A when there’s not really a point B?

I want to feel connected to your protagonist, to fall in love a little with him or her in the first few pages. But if the protag is telling me their history from fourth grade up, or if they spend five paragraphs walking down a road for no apparent reason, then they're not really telling me anything, and I’m not going to invest my emotions and want to follow them along.

Be aware of your first scene. This is where the curtain lifts and unveils your character’s world. You’ve already written their universe, having spent months (or years) crafting the novel and revising it. You know who this person is, what they are about to undertake, and how their world is going to evolve. (And evolve it should, or else your reader is going to lose interest quickly.) You’ve seen how it all comes to pass. So give your opening chapter the cause and affect that will carry the reader into their written world and allow them to fall in love.

Trust me, your novel is worth it.

8 comments:

  1. I really, really appreciate the interns' posting!

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  2. tweeting this for sure--awesome advice for those critical first pages!

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  3. Fantastic advice. Took me a long time to figure this out with my own writing. But, once I did, it really helped my manuscript. Wish I could have read a post like this five years ago. LOL.

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  4. Excellent advice. I'm an outliner, but I still often find I have to cut a bit off the beginning of a draft before the story really finds its proper beginning.

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  5. Love this post. I was adrift with many other authors for a very long time, until I realized the importance of starting your story in the midst of the action. This is something all writers should read. Tweeted:-) Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Thanks for the great advice! I looked back at my completed novel and realized I had finally done this, by much trial and error! Looked at my work-in-progress, and I was way off with my beginning. Taking this advice made the beginning much stronger! Thanks again.

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