Friday, June 18, 2010
I've been thinking a lot lately about first pages, and I thought I'd talk about it here today, even though must of you probably already know these things:
Prologues/Preludes/etc. are more often than not pointless. I realize most people want to drop the reader right into the action. They start with a prologue and then back up in chapter one. Don't. Find another way to do it. Some prologues work, the majority don't. I had a prologue in my 1st MS and I finally realized it was pointless; there was no reason I couldn't work all of that information in somewhere else. I'm not telling you to just delete the thing if you have one, but make sure you absolutely need it before you send it off to an agent, because most of them won't even read the prologue.
We've all read that our MSs should immediately pull our readers into the action and hook them. Yes, we need to make sure there is definitely something happening in those first few pages, but don't over do it. Don't drop your reader into a scene with more than five characters and expect them to remember everyone's names. Don't try to create tension by ignoring every single grammatical rule; it'll just give your reader a headache, especially if it's all block text, the sentences run on forever, and they can't tell who's saying what. You may want their to be a certain level of confusion, but there are better ways to create it.
Just because your first pages are supposed to have a hook in them, doesn't mean the rest of your MS can be as dull as a butter knife. Don't drop everything to explain the back story. Keep the plot moving forward!
If you enter into a contest or conference that offers critiques of your first few pages, do not apply that advice unless you are going to apply to your entire manuscript. Nothing sucks more than to read past the first 30 pages and have the quality of the writing drop considerably. Well, I'm sure something sucks more but right now I can't think of anything.
Make sure your voice is consistent. If you say the MC of your YA novel is in high school, don't make him/her sound like she's 14 half the time and an adult the rest.
If you're writing YA/MG, and I think most of us are, don't talk down to your reader. If you think they don't know a lot of the words your using, do not find a way to work the definitions into your plot. It's demeaning. There are words I don't know that I stumble across while reading, and I'm 20. I'll look them up if I can't figure it out from context clues, and I did the same thing when I was 12. Give your reader the benefit of the doubt, or find a better word.
And I just lost my train of thought, so that's it for today. Are there any other things you can think of that you should/-n't do at the beginning of an MS? I'd love to hear what you all think about the subject.