The First 50 Pages

I read Jeff Gerke’s “The First 50 Pages,” and of course, half the book is highlighted. Since I found the book to be useful, and I learned a lot reading it, I decided to outline some of the main points of the book.

“We have to engage your reader, first and foremost. You have to introduce your hero…establish the context of the story…reveal the genre and milieu and your story world…set up the tone of the book…presenting the stakes, introducing the antagonist, establishing the hero’s desires, starting the main character’s inner journey, and getting a ticking time bomb to start ticking down.”

That’s a lot to do in the first 50 pages…

“A weak first line is a killer. You get only one first line, so make sure it’s carefully thought-out.”

“…don’t start your novel with a dream.”

“Your opening line must hook your reader. You must start with action. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a battle scene or anything that needs to blow up. It simply means it must be interesting to the reader.”

“Good dialogue is…layered. In theater, it’s called subtext.”

“In good dialogue, dialogue with subtext, the characters aren’t responding to what the other person says, but to what they think the other person means.”

“Give your dialogue subtext, and it will be easier for agents and editors–and readers–to love your novel.”

“Fiction is conflict: someone who wants something but is prevented from getting it…The acquisitions editor is looking for signs of conflict in your first fifty pages.”

“…three main craft errors that most often cause agents and acquisitions editors to reject fiction proposals…The big three bombs are telling instead of showing, point-of-view errors, and weak characters.”

“…information dumping is called telling. Its main forms are backstory, pure exposition, summary/recap, and the explanation of character motives.”

“When you load your story with telling, you deprive your reader–and even your characters–of the joy of having it all happen experientially. Take the information out of the voice-overs (your telling) and put it into the scenes.”

“…there are only two things you must do with your first fifty pages, only two large-scale tasks…:

You must engage your reader. That is Job One. And you must set up your story so the rest of it will work correctly.”


*Note: This article was originally published on January 2, 2017. 

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