Sunday, November 15, 2009

Backspace Agent-Author Conference: Opening Pages

The second day of the conference, the attendees read the first two pages of their manuscript. It was evident that people had put a lot of thought and effort into what they had written and expected to be affirmed. For the majority, it was not to be. The agents were direct in what was not working and why: Not identifying the appropriate audience for your writing, writing things there was no way the POV character would know, being too descriptive with your writing; not getting to the point quickly enough.

When my turn came, I made a classical newbie mistake. I was so sure I was being clever, but I was quickly set straight. I used a flashback-right on the second page for Pete's sake! Miriam Kriss of the Irene Goodman Literacy Agency and Emmanuelle Alspaugh of the Judith Erlich Literacy Agency stopped me and told me I had pulled them out of the story by doing that.

When another attendee began to read her pages, before she reached the second sentence, Miriam requested her manuscript. Good natured competition ensued for this girl's work. I had to figure out why. When I got home, I looked over her opening pages and I discovered the secret. Are you ready for this? A significant key to getting your pages requested and getting agents excited is...Observable Dramatic Action. The classic show and not tell. Give them a scene they can see, that draws them into the action. It sounds so simple, but it's something a lot of people don't do and when they see it, they know there is a huge chance, the novel is going to be interesting and pull readers in.

I deconstructed my first two chapters, taking out a great deal of the exposition-telling information. It made a huge difference. I was shocked by how much more interesting my own story was to me and I'm writing it for heavens sake! As I read through it, I was drawn into my own story. That's the power of observable dramatic action. Practice writing your story in scenes with people doing things, saying things. Don't summarize too much. This skill will put you leaps and bounds ahead of the pack.

I saw it happen with my own eyes.

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