Elements to Include in a Novel’s First 5 Pages – Part 2

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.

 

To pull readers into your story, you’ll want to include six elements. In Part 1, we covered the first two: Intriguing Opening and Grounding the Reader. Today, we’ll look at two more elements.

3. Protagonist’s Ordinary World

You’ll cover the protagonist’s ordinary world in a paragraph, a scene, or in as much as a chapter. It’s a picture of the protagonist’s normal situation. Why give the reader this ordinary world? 

Contrast.

Show your reader what your protagonist’s world looks like before and after something significant happens. When the significant event happens—the inciting incident—your reader will be excited to enter the story to learn how your protagonist handles her new life situation.

The protagonist’s ordinary world may be nice and calm before something significant happens. Or he may be in an awful state. It’s not about nice to nasty. It’s about contrast.

The inciting incident is a small or big event that sends the protagonist on a new journey, in a new direction, into a new world.

Example – (Big Inciting Incidence) 

image by Bokskapet

A doctor makes her rounds in a hospital, chatting with her patients and making sure they’re receiving the best care she can give them. Then she’s called to the room of a young woman STAT. When she arrives, she finds the woman she saw ten minutes ago is dead with her throat slit and a scalpel in her hand. The doctor doesn’t believe the woman committed suicide. She prefers to stay out of the police’s way, but detectives are strongly leaning toward suicide. The doctor commits to learn who killed her patient. She’s on a new journey into an unknown world. The inciting incident is the patient’s death.

Note the contrast between her ordinary world as a healer who wants to do the best for her patients and her new, dangerous world of seeking out a murderer.

Example – (Small Inciting Incidence) 

Living in an abusive relationship, the protagonist, Trinity, and her sister have dreamed about driving across the US to see their grandmother. To Trinity, it’s a dream because she’d be too afraid to ask her boyfriend for permission to go. 

image by Victoria_Borodinova

At dinner one evening, while her boyfriend butters his cornbread, he grumbles that it’s burned on the bottom. He says, “If you can’t do anything right, you might as well leave.” 

His words stop her worries about burned cornbread dead. 

While he’s later watching TV, she paces their bedroom floor, angry at his comment. But in a twisted way, she realizes it gives her permission to leave. 

Her sister texts Trinity that they won’t see their grandmother again unless they go soon. Trinity packs a suitcase, sneaks out the back door, and walks to her sister’s house. Her boyfriend’s small but biting comment is the inciting incident. Her sister is the needed mentor to give her a push into her new world—their adventurous trip. Her journey begins.

4. Hint of the protagonist’s inner and external goals

Your protagonist thinks these are the goals missing in her life that she longs for. 

We hint at these goals because readers want to know what they’re rooting for in the protagonist’s story.

The keyword is hint. No backstory.

How might you hint at these goals? 

Outer goals are specific actions they can take.

In my first example above, the doctor’s outer goal is to send her patients home healed and happy. The inciting incident adds an obvious new goal. To find out who killed her patient.

For the abused woman, Trinity, her outer goal is to visit her grandmother someday.

Inner goals are like revenge, success, to feel accepted, etc.

While the doctor makes her rounds, the author could hint her inner goal is to be respected for doing the right and best actions.

Trinity’s inner goal could be she wants to be worthy of love. The author can hint at this while she’s pacing in the bedroom.

Join me next month to look at:

  • Hint of the protagonist’s greatest fear
  • The inciting incident, if possible

What is the protagonist’s ordinary world in the novel you’re reading?

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

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

Write Numbers Right in Fiction

image by geralt

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.

For writing numbers for fiction (opposed to articles), my best advice to you is to read this comprehensive article by Fiction Editor Beth Hill. 

I also read through many of Hill’s answers to the comments and questions she received. Check those out too. Below I give you examples for correct forms of numbers for fiction I found interesting.

General Numbers

Narrative:

Jeremy’s tally showed 31,102 people attended the concert. (For numbers greater than 100)

Thirty-one thousand one hundred two people attended the concert. (Never start a sentence with a numeral.)

Jeremy learned fifty-five people attended the party. (Numbers from zero through one hundred.)

Dialogue:

“I learned thirty-one thousand one hundred two people attended the concert,” Jeremy said. (less common and more formal for dialogue)

“I learned thirty-one thousand one hundred and two people attended the concert,” Jeremy said. (more common for dialogue)

Time

Narrative:

image by geralt

Jeremy arrived at 5:32 p.m. Jess entered at 6:00 a.m. (only one period)

Jeremy arrived at four o’clock. Jess arrived at nine. Elle showed up at ten fifteen.

(image by geralt)

Dialogue

“Jeremy arrived at nine p.m. He left the next morning at eight and arrived home at one thirty,” said Paul. “It’s two twenty-three now.”

Narrative:

The head officer told them they’d rise at 0600.

Dialogue:

“Men, you will rise at zero six hundred,” the head officer said.

Mom gave me a stern look. “You will rise at oh six hundred.”

Narrative and Dialogue:

His two o’clock appointment arrived on time. But his three o’clock never showed up. (no hyphens)

Address

Narrative:

Sandy hunted for 638 Hemingway Drive.

Dialogue:

“I’m hunting for Six thirty-eight Hemingway Drive, but can’t find it.

(image by Coker-Free-Vector Images)

Hill said that Route 66 is a name and can be used in this format for both narrative and dialogue.

Narrative:

Jeremy turned onto Route 66.

Dialogue:

“I always take Route 66.” (Same logic for a TV Channel. “I like the news on Channel 5.”)

Scripture

Narrative: For encouragement, Jeremy brought up Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11.

Dialogue: “For encouragement, look up Romans eight twenty-eight and Jeremiah twenty-nine eleven.”

What number rule from Hill’s article did you find helpful?

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