Elements to Include in a Novel’s First 5 Pages – Part 1

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Learn more at the end of the post.

Don’t lose potential readers. To pull readers into your story, you’ll want to include six elements in the first five pages. In Part 1, we’ll cover two. The full six will help you to

  • hook your reader;
  • place the reader immediately into your story;
  • ground your reader in the who, where, and when; and
  • persuade the reader your story is worth reading.

1 Intriguing Opening

image by geralt

Begin your story with sentences that make your reader ask a question they want to know the answer to.

Example:

Gretchen wiped tears from her cheeks and breathed in fresh air bearing a pleasant gardenia scent. So this was what being outside felt like. She lifted her face to the sunshine warming her head and shoulders. Her seven-month confinement was over.

Questions the reader might ask:

Where has she been that she hasn’t been outside for seven months? Why was she confined?

2 Grounding the Reader

As soon as possible, let your reader know the who, where, and when.

image by Free-Photos

Suppose after the opening hook and into the second page of the story, Gretchen thinks about the things she wants to do in her new freedom. She rises to her feet and takes a few shaky steps, then turns back and sits down. Then a man adjusts his work hat and says, “Let me help you inside.”

Now your reader is asking different questions, but these questions stem from confusion. Where is Gretchen? What is she sitting on? Who is this man? And he wants to help her inside what?

The reader is confused.

image by Engine_Akyurt

The reader’s possible thoughts:

Where: Is she outside a hospital? Why didn’t people take her outdoors during her long stay? That’s unrealistic. People would have taken her outside in a wheelchair. Maybe she was in a coma. That could be the answer. She’s probably sitting in a wheelchair now.

Who: But wouldn’t someone be beside her to help her? Where’s the person who pushed the wheelchair? Is the man who spoke the one who pushed the wheelchair? Or is he a driver of a car that’ll take her away? Or is he the aide who’ll take her back inside the hospital?

When: Well, at least I know it’s daytime. The man adjusts his work hat. If he’s a taxi or ambulance driver, they don’t wear company hats anymore. Neither would a hospital aide. Maybe the story takes place in the past.

I’m confused!

The reader puts the book down.

Do you really want your reader going through all that rumination?

Grounding after the opening lines:

Gretchen is sitting on a porch step of an old Virginia farmhouse, tears spilling from her eyes. Her seven-month ordeal is over.

Two police cars are parked askew out front. The husband and wife who held Gretchen captive sit cuffed in a police cruiser’s backseat. Sirens blare in the distance.

image by GregMcMahan

The sun has become intense. As Gretchen stands and walks toward a bench under a shade tree, a Virginia State patrol car arrives. The trooper climbs out of the vehicle and adjusts his broad-rimmed campaign hat.

The bright sunlight and Gretchen’s weakness make her woozy. The trooper steps forward and says, “Let me help you to the bench.”

You get the idea.

Join me next month to look at:

  • The protagonist’s ordinary world
  • Hinting at the protagonist’s inner and external goals

What in the first five pages makes you put a book down?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

 


If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising the early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly, writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in only 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

3 Steps to Write Story Setting into the Action

image by Find-cat

“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

See more about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days at the end of the post.

We want our readers to picture the scene around them, but we don’t want to bore them with lengthy descriptions. Here are three easy steps to portray the setting in action.

Step 1

Have your point-of-view character take out her imaginary video camera and heft it to her eye. She must make sure the sound is on. 

Example: Marooned on an island, Reba takes out her video camera, which miraculously still works, and turns it on.

Step 2

Direct your character to slowly pivot around and look and listen for interesting or necessary things in her surroundings. You might even write a description of the scene’s setting.

Example: As Reba heads into the tropical forest she turns and looks back with her camera. She sees Paul, a fallen palm trunk, the beach with a white sand shore and rolling aqua waves. The waves crash and form a froth. As she enters the tropical forest her camera spots palms, yuccas, vines and other unidentified brush and trees. She exits the forest at a waterfall. Her camera picks up the fall’s crashing water that sends out sprays of cold water. She turns to the right and sees papaya and banana trees in clumps rising from a blanket of green grass. Bees buzz around them, and leaves flutter in the gentle breeze, making brushing sounds. To her left, Reba’s camera catches a wild thicket of tall grass.

Step 3

Now rewrite the description into the scene through the point-of view character’s actions and reactions, using the most interesting and necessary things the character saw in the camera. Take into consideration the scene’s pace as to how much camera sightings you include. Get creative.

Example:

Reba left Paul on the beach perched on a fallen palm trunk, aqua waves pounding the shore and turning into froth behind him. He fashioned a spearhead with shell shards and parts of coconuts. She turned to see if he’d follow her, but he didn’t look up. 

If only she knew the guy better. Didn’t he know they needed to learn whether the island was occupied? Apparently not. His lame spearhead was his macho reaction to first things to do. Self-protection. She plowed through hot white sand to the tropical forest beyond the beach, grumbling.

Reba pushed aside young palm tree’s leaves, circumvented yuccas, and ducked under drooping vines hanging from unidentified trees with massive roots. Rushing water became louder as she fought her way through the tropical jungle. Her heart beats quickened. Would a friendly tribe live in a village surrounding a waterfall? Or a mob of natives that had a craving for human flesh? 

She stepped through the last of the jungle. Water flooded over a cliff into a pool surrounded by exotic flowers. Awesome. Reba jogged to a wild orchard at the right of the fall. She snapped a banana from one tree and tugged a papaya loose from another. Wouldn’t Paul be surprised.

Whistling. Speak of the dev— Reba whipped around to the rustling tall thicket of grass opposite the orchard. A wild boar. Charging her. She froze. Paul leaped in front of her, and thrust his spear. The tusked black boar dropped to the ground. 

Hopefully, you picture the setting without paragraphs describing the scene.

What book do you think did a great job of giving the setting and why?

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor


Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

12 Tips to Edit a Story Draft into an Enjoyable Read

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is designed to shape a not-yet submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines. The method can also be a guiding resource for writers starting a manuscript. See details below.

I’m close to finishing a first draft. I’ve avoided editing, except fixes that made the plot work. I’ll edit the draft using the following tips.

Editing Tips

Tip 1 Writing to a word count can help with overwriting. In writing blog posts, my word-count goal is 500 words. It’s amazing how much better the post is when I hunt down wordy or unnecessary phrases and stick close to my goal. Same for a novel.

Tip 2 Don’t allow backstory in the first chapter. Do know your protagonist’s backstory. Do feed what’s necessary into other chapters. Do use backstory in how your character acts and reacts.

Tip 3 Get rid of repetition and explaining. Sometimes repetition comes in a different form but says the same thing. He shoveled in food, bite after bite. Explaining suggests readers aren’t smart enough to get it. He shoveled in food. He was hungry.

image by stevepb

Tip 4 Kill your darlings. You have a paragraph you think is clever. If you’re unsure it’s funny, something the character would say, or whether it’s melodramatic, cut your darling.

Tip 5  “Overwriting is a natural result of our own effort to figure out what’s happening in any given scene. Only after we have discovered the core truth can we know what truly belongs and what doesn’t, based on a clearer knowledge of what we’re trying to say and what the scene requires.” “The Too Long and Short of It” by David Corbett (Writer’s Digest September 2019)

Tip 6 Similar to Tip 5 but for the entire book. Understand your character’s past wounds, struggles, and values so you know how he’d react to events, people, and dialogue. Understand what you’re trying to say in your novel. With this knowledge, write a one-sentence theme for your story. Let this guide you so you don’t ramble.

Tip 7 Make sure every scene has purpose to the plot, characterization or the character’s growth arc. Otherwise, cut or change it.

image by KeithJJ

Tip 8 If you describe many body-part movements in a character’s actions, look for a single word. He tightened his fingers on the ball, pulled his arm back, and then threw the ball. Instead, He pitched the ball.

Tip 9 For all genres, add suspense to your scenes, i.e. create and hold back information the reader wants to know. End chapters with a hook or “cliff hanger” to draw readers to the next chapter.

Tip 10 Don’t explain dialogue. Dialogue itself should do the work. Write dialogue that‘s: necessary, unique to the character speaking, shows his emotion, and interesting. 

Tip 11 Don’t over describe characters or settings. Allow the reader to visualize with a few key “traits.”

Tip 12 Make sure your ending is satisfying to the reader. Wrap up all the subplots, except maybe one for the next book in a series. Don’t rush the ending. Make sure it’s plausible. Include a surprise or a reward the character receives, such as an understanding or something that relates to an item in the story. 

What in a novel do you dislike reading or skip over? 


Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/