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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The first page, part 9 - Make every word count

This is continuing my series on things to look for in your first page.
Click here for part eight.

Make every word count

This goes back to how you only have one page to hook an editor. If that editor isn’t hooked by that first page, he or she will move the entire manuscript to the Reject pile without even bothering to go to page two.

That being the case, you should expend considerable effort to not have any useless words on that first page.

Make every description juicy and unique, without any “throw-away” words or phrases.

Make every line of dialogue snappy and emotional, without unnecessary tags or adverbs.

Make every sentence concise and precise—nothing meandering or vague or fluffy.

Introduce your character with clear but unique descriptors, whether in dialogue or by action. Don’t waste time with backstory and “telling” the reader what’s happening—suck the reader in to “show” them what’s happening as it happens to the character.

Dwight Swain has an entire chapter in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer, where he talks about just the words a writer should use. Now, granted, Swain is a bit wordy himself, but he wouldn’t go off for so long on the topic if it weren’t important.

So go through every word on that first page and determine its importance and it’s vibrancy.

If a word is bland, try to come up with something stronger. If a word is unnecessary, cut ruthlessly.

Spend time on each and every word, no matter how tedious that might sound to you. Just do it, because you’ll be glad you did when an editor reads that first page and then HAS to read on to page two.

Click here for part ten.

4 comments:

  1. AFter reading this post, I'm off to go check my first pages!! Excellent advice. :)

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  2. Great advice! I used to have a problem with this. I think some of the best advice I've ever heard is that if you can't start a book without giving ten pages of backstory, start the book earlier.

    I revised my first five pages about thirty times. It's about three pages shorter than it was when I first wrote it, and a lot better for it. I totally agree with what you say.

    Thanks for sharing! :D

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  3. Thanks for another great post, Camy! I'm working through 'The First Five Pages' by Noah Lukeman, and his exercises hone these points as well. It's definitely a challenge to make each word sing, but a necessary and worthwhile one.

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  4. Thanks, guys! I always have problems with my first pages, too. I tend to revise and cut the most in that first chapter. Sarah, The First Five Pages is a great book--I love that one!
    Camy

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