Finished “The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman this week, in between bouts of editing and NaNo writing.
For me, this is one of the more helpful books I’ve read. Despite its name, it is more about upping your overall writing game than about the first few pages of a novel. The truth is, people who assess your manuscript can dismiss you pretty fast, so you do have to be careful early so you don’t lose them before you have a chance to strut your stuff. But if you only have a few pages of good work, they’re going to be that much more irritated when they realize you had the capability to do a great job but didn’t put the time in to make your whole manuscript awesome.
Noah Lukeman sets out some concrete ways that agents and editors assess a manuscript. As an agent/editor himself, he describes the 19 things that mean automatic dismissal, from stilted dialogue to poor use of comparison. He does spend time discussing how to solve each problem, but he is up-front that writing is an art, and solutions are often up to the creativity of the writer. Still, if you cannot identify the problem, you cannot bend your creativity to finding a solution, and I found this book an extremely helpful tool for identifying weaknesses in my manuscript.
It isn’t a book that will keep you motivated as you draft – in fact, I probably picked a bad time to read this, because NaNo is not the time to start worrying about quality. It really shoots you in the foot word-count-wise.
But when it’s time to edit, or you need to uncover the issues that are making your scene fall flat, “The First Five Pages” should be helpful.