Monday, March 29, 2010

After the Beginning, But Before the End

New writers are constantly exhorted to work on the beginning of their manuscripts. Make that first sentence irresistible! That first paragraph has to sing! That first page must leave the reader itching to continue!

Okay. Fair enough.

But there's more to a good manuscript than the beginning. We need to remember that the high polish of the beginning needs to continue throughout the manuscript. Here's an easy and rather effective way of testing your current WiP: Turn to page 59 and read it. If someone only read that page, would they want to keep reading? How about page 147?

I've found this test a wonderful device to check that each page moves my plot or character development along. I'm not suggesting car crashes or ghostly apparitions or heart-thumping suspense are needed on every page. But surely, those words should be there for a reason. If you can read a page mid-manuscript and nothing happens on it, then I would suggest you've got some work ahead of you.

I discovered I had dialogue on one of the pages - not a large surprise, since my characters tend to talk. A lot. This conversation was revealing a bit more about two characters and their relationship both with each other and with the (soon to be) victim. The other page had new evidence being revealed.

I think I'm okay.

Try this test. It works. It also makes you look at your WiP in a whole new way.


  1. Excellent idea, Elspeth. I've done that with my books - not as a conscious technique, more out of intuition, but I think it should be a staple in any author's writing regimen.

    Marvin D Wilson

  2. Good idea. I try to keep the story moving on each page so hopefully there's something exciting regardless of where someone might open up to. My editors are great at identifying data dump.

    Stephen Tremp

  3. This is great advice. I know I rewrote my ending and beginning a lot, but it's the middle of a novel that's the hardest part to get down on paper. I usually end up chopping scenes, realizing there's a lot in there that's not necessary. There should be tension on every page!

  4. Karen; Use it. I've found it very useful. Of course, step one is actually having the pages!

    Old Silly; I'm not surprised you've done this. It's a wonderful tool.

    Stephen; Editors are great - but I like to fix as much as I can before it sits before my editor.

    Stephanie; Middles are tough. I don't know about tension on every page, but there should certainly be something that keeps the plot moving forward.

  5. Good advice! I have never lost any of my beta readers in the first chapter, but some of them have been less than thrilled in the middle part so I know that that is where I have to make an effort.

  6. A character reveals their choice for murderer of the victim du jour on my page 59. :)

    Great test!


  7. Dorte; Oh, the middle! It's so tricky.

    Elizabeth; Excellent! I LOVE the term victim du jour. That made me giggle.

  8. Elspeth - Thanks for that wonderful idea!! It's rather like a sandwich. Of course one needs delicious bread (a terrific beginning and end of a story), but one also needs scrumptious filling. Time to go make sure my sandwich filling isn't stale ; ).

  9. You know what? Those two random pages weren't bad. Things were happening on each one. No info dumps, no backstory. One was a pretty good chapter ending. Thanks for this.

  10. I'm off to give it a go. See what I find...

  11. What fun! I was just responding to you and a few others in the comments about how it is the middle I need to be working on! I'm going to go check those two pages right now! I did! I like them - there is definitely things happening on both of them. Yay!

  12. Margot; What an appetizing analogy! It IS like a sandwich - and who wants stale filling?

    Carol; I'm pleased to hear it. Isn't it wonderful to be delightfully surprised?

    Elizabeth; Best of luck - it's a great tool.

    Jan; Yah for you! Ug. The middle. It's where everything has to happen and so often there are large periods of silence. Great for a Pinter play - not so good in a manuscript.

  13. What a good idea. I never thought of doing this but it makes such good sense. I’m in the middle of a revision now and plan to add this step. Thanks.

  14. Jane; I'm glad I could help - it's a wonderful way to check pace.

  15. I do that too! It is such a great way to spot boring bits.

  16. 147 was great - MC's boyfriend phones to call off their relationship.
    59 not so good in terms of moving the story forward, but nuances of the relationship between a MC and her overbearing parents emerge, so not bad either.

    Thanks for the test - brilliant post.


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