by Pria Taneja
Pria has worked in fiction editorial at HarperCollins. Pria also holds a Ph.D in English, and has taught undergraduate courses at Queen Mary, University of London. Pria's academic background enables her to unpack themes and ideas buried in the text and use them to inform her feedback.
It’s fair to say that a professional reader will make up their mind about a piece of writing in the first few pages, even if they carry on reading, so here are my ten top tips to make sure that you grab your editor’s interest in the opening bars of your work. Editors do not read like regular people when considering manuscripts. They read very closely, paying attention to small details, to individual words, to setting, to accuracy. They will also have in their minds a bigger picture, even in those first few pages: will it fit in with their list? How will it perform in the market? So it is worth getting a few key things right in order to get your manuscript the consideration it deserves!
You need a gripping first line, which extends to the first paragraph and first page, something that draws your reader into your tale and the world of your story. The opening line is special – but extend the principle to the first paragraph and page of your ms and you are on the right track. You want to achieve an intensity that is maintained for the first page of your work; not necessarily something shocking or revealing, but certainly a narrative with an emotional or descriptive intensity that sets the tone for the rest of the book. Hooks can also be utilized at the end of sections and paragraphs to propel the reader forward.
This is the golden, golden rule of writing. Use actions, atmosphere, other’s reactions and details of clothing, behaviour and habits to inform your reader about your character and their situation, rather than narrating facts.
Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly. Be judicious in the use of expletives.
Really think about how people actually speak. Most conversations are fragmentary, with information being communicated in circular, complex ways. Dialogue is one of the first things an editor will look at to judge the skill of the writer, so it is worth paying close attention to. Beware dialogue that is used only to convey information about plot to the reader, it nearly always sounds fake and imposed on the characters by the author.
Characters who are from the East End, or American, or children speak like everyone else. It can be very off-putting to read dialogue that is overly burdened with dialect.
To yourself or to a friend. Reading aloud can help to correct one of the easiest errors to spot and the hardest to fix: those of style. It can also be invaluable in correcting the authenticity of dialogue.
It is worth remembering that your reader has to care in some way for your narrator and characters. Even if they are loathsome, for example, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, or weird, for example, Frank in the Wasp Factory. Provide them with an inner voice, and a specific emotional landscape from where they operate. Give them some layers, even in the opening pages.
Ambiguity is good! Your reader does not need to know everything, or the reason for everything right away, even down to small actions on the part of your characters.
this means printed in black ink, no less than 12pt, in a clear, standard font such as Times New Roman, double spaced, correctly formatted and on clean A4 paper.
Lots of famous authors were rejected first time around. The only way to improve is to practice your craft, keep reading and revising. Find your voice, believe in your work and tell your story.