I've heard the rule of thumb for adult fiction is that all the elements of the story have to be in place by page fifty of a book to keep a reader reading. For kidlit, it's probably much earlier than that. As writers, how to we know we've got the first fifty pages where they need to be?I’ve been doing some critiquing and some editing of my own work, and came to some realizations in the process. We know it’s hard to see the flaws in our own writing, but critiquing others has helped me know what to look for now. I’ve made a list of some things I use whether I’m reading my own story or someone else’s work:
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Keeping the Reader Reading - Analyzing the first 50 pages of a Manuscript
1. For each character introduced, do I have a picture in my head of them besides their name and occupation/role? Will I be able to remember something about them when I encounter them later? I read fast, like many others, and if a character comes into the story and then disappears again for awhile, it’s frustrating to me when that character reappears and I can’t remember who they are and what point they serve to the story. Somehow, they need to be memorable enough the first time around to stick.
2. For the important characters, how do I feel about them? Do I like them? Dislike them? Don’t care? Too often, when a story starts out where the main character is unhappy with their current situation, it may make sense plot-wise, but the reader needs to feel more than sympathy for a character to really be hooked. I want to know something interesting about a character. It doesn’t matter what, but I like to know how at least some tiny distinction that would make me want to keep reading about them.
3. Do I have an inkling of what the main character wants or what they are going to face? This may seem obvious, especially in middle grade where the pace moves faster, but sometimes you can get hung up on dreaded backstory infodump. It may feel like everything about the character’s world needs to be defined, but neglecting the plot to do so can kill the pacing. Relating this back to #2, it’s a fine balance to get into the plot fast enough while not neglecting the character development. If the first few pages are about your characters about to fall into a pit of boiling lava, that’s exciting, but I have to care a little about them too.
4. Is the world in the story interesting enough to make the reader either want to be in that world or at least be able to easily imagine it? If your story is set in an ordinary place, you still can engage the readers’ senses so they can feel they are part of the story. If it’s an unusual place, again, anything you can do to make the reader believe it’s real, the more the reader will be drawn into the story. For me, the best stories of all are ones in which I want to be in that world, if only for a little while.
Any other tips for critiquing or editing? I'm always looking to add to my list!~Dee Garretson