Friday, July 30, 2010

The First Five Pages

A Writers Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile
- Noah Lukeman, Simon and Schuster

If you missed my previous posts—You must buy this text. I summarize the genius. Part 3 of 3:

Third Level of Elimination: The Bigger Picture
1. Showing versus Telling
  • "Above all, readers like to make a text their own…to sympathize, empathize, project."
  • Telling makes text read more like a synopsis than a work of art.
  • "…the reader must enter a world—he cannot have it described to him."
  • Common telling: introduce characters or place for the first time; flurry of events; a jump in time (bridge between events), where you fill reader with backstory; summarizing conversations instead of dramatizing them
  • "Stating facts is not the same as telling. Telling directs us to the conclusions we should come to about the facts.
2. Viewpoint; Narration
  • Person inconsistency
  • Frequent switches of point of view
  • Viewpoint characters who know what they shouldn't
  • Reader must feel strongly about the narrator, love or hate—"the only error is to have the reader not care either way."
3. Characterization
  • Poor usage of character names
    • Switching between first and last names—don't make it harder to keep up with your characters
  • Use of stock, cliché, or overly exotic names
  • Launching into story without establishing characters
  • Cliché character traits
  • Too many characters at once
    • Keep number of characters to essential minimum
  • Confusion over who the protagonist is
  • Presence of extraneous characters
  • Generic character descriptions
    • Character description inevitably stops the action; is a form of telling not showing
  • Characters we don't care about
  • Unsympathetic protagonist
4. Hooks
  • Avoid one-liners that fail context, come across as gimmicky
  • Hooks must be integral to text
  • Avoid the "overexcited" hook that sets up more than we get
  • As opening dialogue "…almost never works, especially with beginning writers."
    • Ploy-ish
  • Exposition is needed to establish a story
5. Subtlety
  • "...the mark of confidence and is thus by far the hardest thing for a writer to achieve."
  • "The unsubtle writer…[will] hit the [reader] over the head with obvious information, tell him things he already knows and generally repeat things."
  • "…the unsubtle writer will often tell in addition to show!"
6. Tone
  • Tone is the basic construction—flow, rhythm
  • Voice behind the work, driving intention behind the sound and style
    • Witty
    • Mocking
    • Sarcastic
    • Nostalgic
    • Angry, happy,
    • Brazen, trivial
    • Arrogant, important
    • Condescending
    • Overly personal narrator
    • Overly serious narrator
  • Tone must fit the manuscript
7. Focus
  • Does the writing further the intention or progression of the work?
    • Watch for stream-of-consciousness writing
  • Resolve events, subplots
  • Avoid blatant digression, pontification, self-indulgence
  • Too focused: progress is too neat, rigid, perfect, may lack spontaneity
8. Setting
  • Basis for text; richness; affects relationships between characters and serve as stimuli
  • Setting itself can become a character
  • Setting errors:
    • No setting/too many settings (like characters, reader can only make room for so many)
    • Stops the flow of narrative—too much; insignificant settings
    • Doesn't change
    • Never comes to life
    • Characters don't interact with/within it
    • Never affects the characters
  • Small touches make setting come to life—tiniest details
  • Senses: smell, sound, sight, feeling, climate, emotion
9. Pacing; Progression
  • On track? Slow? Boring? Lead anywhere? Too fast?
  • Look for lags; too fast pace scenes
  • Does the world created interest the reader—look for your over-indulgence
  • Not enough at stake
  • Not enough between beginning and end
  • Too much telling and description in scenes
  • "Dialogue is the most powerful element that can affect pacing."
  • "Dialogue, even in small doses, accelerates the pace…."
  • If progression is lacking, look for undeveloped plot and characterization
  • The reader wants tension drawn out.
 Write Every Day!



  1. Great overview. I heard about this book but haven’t had a chance to check it out. Thanks!

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