I learned some cool tips from Jeff Gerke’s book, The First 50 Pages: Engage Agents, Editors and Readers, and Set Your Novel Up for Success, published in 2011 by Writer’s Digest Books.
First 50 Pages
Jeff Gerke says the best first lines of fiction fall into categories.
Tip: Read the first lines of your favorite books to see which types appeal to you.
Tip: Use a “legato sentence” that pulls readers into the scene. Personally, I like opening sentences that have no commas or dashes.
The first chapter needs to introduce the setting, main characters, and conflict, as well as hook readers. This is a big job and one that I struggle with, so I was intrigued to find that Jeff Gerke recommends splitting the job into two parts.
Tip: Consider using a prologue to hook readers. Develop the other elements in detail later.
As a film-maker, Jeff Gerke says the reader needs to see the scene as in a movie. Are you using a wide-angle lens for the scene? Are you zooming in for a close up? Or, is the lens capturing something in between? I hope to revisit and analyze every scene as if I’m looking through a camera lens. When I first write a scene, it’s clear in my mind, but waiting a few weeks to edit makes me see how sparse the scene really is.
Tip: Ask yourself, “Can the camera see it?”
Worry is a Good Thing
Jeff Gerke defines suspense as “excruciatingly wonderful anxiety.” Recently, I wrote a scene that dragged and was painful to re-read. What was lacking? The conflict.
Tip: Give readers something to worry about from the first chapter to the last.
No, this isn’t a typo. The Kindle version of the book had a couple of formatting typos that made me laugh, including this one, “craft smanship,” which was used throughout the book. Instead of a liability, “craft smanship” brought to mind a futuristic transport to undiscovered worlds—exactly what I’m looking for in my writing career.
Tip: Use common words in smashing ways.
Tip: For more cool tips, read Jeff Gerke’s book.
Last April I took a workshop on speculative fiction from Jeff Gerke, who was so knowledgeable and entertaining that I was drawn to his books. A week ago at the Oregon Christian Writers 2014 Summer Conference, when I told him how much I benefited from The First 50 Pages, he laughed at the typo and said he had nothing to do with the Kindle formatting. I knew that.
I’m looking forward to reading more of his books.