by Rob Quehl
I would like to introduce a book that has helped me considerably. It is called the The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman, a literary agent and former editor. I believe the book will be helpful to advanced writers as well as beginners. It is focused on fiction novels, but it may be helpful to all writers, including poets.
After much searching at the library, I became frustrated with the many books promising “the perfect plot” or lists of “ideal characters”, and other dubious formulas for success. Mr. Lukeman’s book is different. Surprisingly, the author does not claim to offer anything that will produce great writing. Instead, the focus of his book is learning how to identify and avoid bad writing. Specifically, the type of writing mistakes that an agent or editor will use to eliminate your manuscript.
The book is broken down into three parts:
- Part I introduces preliminary problems involving presentation, adjectives and adverbs, sound, comparisons, and style.
- Part II encompasses problems related to dialogue – placement, commonplace, informative, melodramatic, and hard to follow.
- Part III discusses the bigger picture – showing versus telling, viewpoint & narration, characterization, hooks, subtlety, tone, focus, setting, and pacing & progression.
The author provides examples and explanations for each problem, as well as potential solutions. He also sprinkles in many enjoyable quotes from great authors.
This book helped me identify several problem areas in my writing. I went back and made changes, and I was glad I did. It also gave me encouragement that I was doing other things well.
Of all the books I have looked at, this is the only one I would recommend, as well as his follow-up book: The Plot Thickens.
I hope you find it helpful.
Rob Quehl lives in Kitchener and is currently working on two novels.