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#1 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 03:29 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I have been working on a novel for several years. Around kids, between kids, 2 hours on random Saturdays. It is a good story with good characters. I had it workshopped a couple times a few years back and made good changes on it. I re-worked it more and wanted to have it workshopped again, but I no longer have the connections I once did.

So my husband (an avid reader) is reading it. I asked him what's happening and he said, "Nothing. I guess that would be my feedback."

And he is right. The first 40 pages or so is background info, getting to know the characters, building up until the meat of the story starts. I could just chop off those pages and work the information into the book somehow. Except the book is really short as is. A little over 100 double spaced pages. If I cut out 40 pages or so, it is a really long short story.

Then he said, "Of course, I could be the wrong market."

Okay, maybe chick lit or something.

I've heard it said that, if you are going to have a gun on the first page, the gun better go off by the end of the first chapter. I have a gun of sorts and it doesn't go off until around page 40 or so.

Ugh. I don't know what to do. Any ideas?

Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.

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#2 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 10:56 AM
 
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i can think of a couple of examples where what you've described has worked. one is dickens - is your story complex enough to justify dickens-style foundation building? and would you ever want anyone to think you're that dry?! the other is the babysitters club series. those books have that first chapter of story, and then the second chapter goes into detail about the girl this book is centered around, her home/family life, and her thoughts about the other girls in the club. i loved that, as a kid, but again, is that what you're going for?

is page 100 the end of your story? maybe that first big section of set-up needs to be rewritten as story as well, just a bit earlier in their lives (you know, when they all used to get along, or before they met, or whatever). think about ways you can reveal who the characters are and what their lives are about through the way they interact and respond to things, rather than just telling the reader directly.

if dh isn't your audience, then maybe you can use your connections here to get some feedback via email.
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#3 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 11:36 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I guess I should fill in what I've said. Sounds like I didn't give quite the correct impression. The first pages are written in story format, show don't tell, but they're all background info. Here's the scene of them renovating the apartment and he kicks the sheetrock and she can't understand why he won't talk about a baby. And then here's the chapter of the schizophrenic neighbor talking to his visions. And here's the scene/chapter of the co-dependent mom feeding the schizophrenic neighbor while he talks to his visions.

Then after 40 or so pages of getting to know everyone, the event happens.

Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.

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#4 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 01:17 PM
 
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For me, beautiful language (I don't mean flowery, but just stellar writing--well chosen words, rhythm, pace, descriptions--when it is like a poem, with no faults), and subtle, very sublte conflicts or even ideas of conflicts are enough to pull me in. I don't need anything major to happen to be enjoying the novel. Language is very important to me

I noticed the men in general want action, and they want it right away.

My husband's reaction to my novel is too, that nothing happens.

On the other hand, if you suspect that you can work it all into the novel without giving the backstory first--I think you should do this.

A hundred pages should be about 25000 words, which is at best a half of a novel, but realistically speaking only 1/3. You have plenty of space to expand.

My kids are 8, 5 and 2!
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#5 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 05:02 PM
 
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I'm relatively new at this so take my thoughts or leave them... just thought i'd throw them out there.

Most of what I've read about modern day publishing says that you need a good "hook" in the first part of your book. It needs to be what makes your reader committed to your characters and draws them in to stay (of course beautiful language can make or break this too, as midnightwriter put it).

I am writing a novel as well, and working back and forth with another novellist who is writing her novel. We have been sharing ideas and stories and chapters to show the other what we're working on and she is facing the same dilemma you are. TONS of backstory (that is shown, not told), and you don't find out anything horribly interesting about the characters or their purpose yet.

After you show your readers that he kicks the sheetrock and won't talk about a baby, do you give any indication that there are DEEPER problems going on? I don't know the plot of the book, but given the information this is EITHER your surface problem or your story worthy problem, and being that its the first chapter, I'm assuming its the surface problem. Does your reader know why the schizophrenic neighbor or the mother are important? How are they connected, and what do they reveal? Do they answer any questions or are they they answers before the questions are asked?

My personal preference is to show WHY something is important, and then introduce it, and again, play upon the story-worthy problem as an undercurrent for the surface problem.

For example, if my main character is afraid of clowns, and therefore won't leave his apartment because there are clowns living next door that could walk into the hallway at any time, I would introduce the story by showing him calling a friend or family member to bring him something really important... maybe he sliced his finger and needs stitches but won't leave so he can go to the doctor because of the clown-neighbors. His family member tells him "look, you need to get over this fear of yours. Its been ridiculous since we were kids. yadda yadda," and he just uses super glue to fix his cut instead, going to desperate measures to avoid going in the hall. You see the surface problem (his fear of the clown neighbor, but not the clown neighbor him/herself), and you see him talking to the family member and dealing with his cut. All of this eludes to the story-worthy problem, which is of course that the character has to confront his deep-rooted fear of clowns, so that he can function, have family relationships, and ultimately get out of his apartment to live a normal life. (it might be fun to show him pining over a woman who walks out of his building and him lamenting not being able to talk to her because he can't leave the apartment.... and then later in the book find out that she is in fact the clown next door... hmm).

Anyway - the point is that you need to make your readers care about WHY the schizophrenic neighbor and his mother are important, and don't lose the tension of the baby discussion or the cracked sheetrock in pages of back-story. Its hard to pick that up again chapters later.

*ETA* - As for it being short, try adding in some sub-conflicts to complicate the story a bit (like the bit of the clown next door ending up being a girl he falls in love with from the window without her ever even knowing he's there. Does she see him one day and decide to come up and say hello... then maybe he gets comfortable with her until he learns that she is a clown?). Maybe throw in a family fight, or a damaged relationship that needs to be mended as a result of the main character's irrational behavior because of his fears, etc. How are finances affected by all this? You can throw in so many things.

That's my 2-cents having not read the book and going just off of what info we have here.
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#6 of 12 Old 07-29-2009, 06:39 PM - Thread Starter
 
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In the first paragraph of the book I mention there are rumored to be ghosts in the house. The ghost theme surfaces intermittently as part of the conflict between the characters. It's when we finally meet the ghosts that things really start happening. (This is not a horror story. The ghosts are good people with their own conflicts and needs.) The first 40 pages or so are getting to know the characters so when stuff happens, we understand what and why they do what they do.

I've contemplated that I could just introduce the ghosts and fill in the background story on the characters as the story progresses. With two little kids I don't have the time to sit down at the computer and really figure this out. I don't know that I have the mental energy to think about it between my Saturday afternoon writing sessions. Of course, once/if I decide I need to do something then I will just plod along. I have been working on this book off and on for 9 years. It keeps getting better and better, but when I sometimes go years between writing sessions, it does take awhile.

I'm also not sure if I need to do this or not. It may be an audience thing. I thought making intermittent references to the ghosts would be enough to keep things moving along.

Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.

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#7 of 12 Old 07-30-2009, 03:49 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I just looked at the manuscript again. The reason I thought it was 100 pages is that's what it was in single spacing format. In double spacing, it's 200 pages. About 53,000 words. Cutting out, or at least moving around, the first 40 pages doesn't seem as fatal as it did before.

Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.

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#8 of 12 Old 07-30-2009, 04:57 AM
 
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Originally Posted by mybabysmama View Post
I just looked at the manuscript again. The reason I thought it was 100 pages is that's what it was in single spacing format. In double spacing, it's 200 pages. About 53,000 words. Cutting out, or at least moving around, the first 40 pages doesn't seem as fatal as it did before.
That's great! From what you said, it seems that you do think that your story starts with the ghosts. So start there!

My kids are 8, 5 and 2!
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#9 of 12 Old 08-03-2009, 07:21 PM
 
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You might try picking up a copy of a book like "The First Five Pages" or "Writing the Breakout Novel", both of which I've found useful. IMO and in everything I've read about writing a novel, the story "should" open at the point where something changes and sets the story in motion. You should have a good strong hook within the first 3 pages at most, right at the start if you can manage it. You should avoid details or background at the beginning unless they're absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the basic action.

What market are you writing to? ie, literary mainstream, mystery, science fiction....? In most markets 53k isn't really long enough for a full novel (with children's books being an exception) to begin with...

Erin, mom to DD (1/06) and DS (10/09)
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#10 of 12 Old 08-03-2009, 07:44 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your thoughts.

This is a general fiction book.

I am reading "A Wrinkle in Time" right now. It starts out with the same pacing as my book. Same types of references to the forces out there. Granted, it's an older book, so rules may have changed. It did win a Newberry.

I'm starting to think the problem may be my husband. One of the many aspects of this story is that the wife wants a baby and the husband doesn't. My husband is not interested in that as a topic. He's gotten to the scene where stuff starts happening and he still says, "Nothing's happening."

And, there is a change in the first chapter. They have yet another tiff and he finally agrees to see someone to talk about a baby. He's hesitant because she wants to see the psychic who keeps saying there are ghosts in the house, but if that's who she wants to see, he'll go just to try and get along.

In my first paragraph I make references to the ghosts in the house.

What I need is knowledgeable readers, but I've lost all my local contacts over the years and I don't want to pay someone to look at it. I know that sometimes people here will help each other out, but I am hesitant to give the actual manuscript to someone I haven't met.

I am concerned about it being short, but don't want to add words to just make it longer. I actually have a short story about the characters from the perspective of an outsider that's fun. I thought maybe I could include it and some other related short stories.

Created an instant family (7/89 and 5/91) in 1997. Made a baby boy 12/05 adopted a baby girl 8/08. Ask me about tandem adoptive nursing. Now living as gluten, dairy, cane sugar, and tomato free vegetarians. Homeschooling and loving it.

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#11 of 12 Old 08-03-2009, 08:04 PM
 
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I'd love to read a part of it. I'm not a professional reader but I'd do it for free. I worked in the editorial department of a publishing company at one point and did some private consultation as well. I can't promise I'd speed read it but I would give it a good shot, or at least tell you my opinion of the start? You don't have to give the whole manuscript since that is concerning to you, just the part you were wondering about. If you want to feel better about it, we can trade manuscripts so you have something to hold over my head as well. Although mine is far from done. If you don't want to that's OK too, just thought I'd offer.

mama of DS(3) & DD(2)
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#12 of 12 Old 08-03-2009, 09:51 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mybabysmama View Post
Thanks for your thoughts.

This is a general fiction book.

I am reading "A Wrinkle in Time" right now. It starts out with the same pacing as my book. Same types of references to the forces out there. Granted, it's an older book, so rules may have changed. It did win a Newberry.

I'm starting to think the problem may be my husband. One of the many aspects of this story is that the wife wants a baby and the husband doesn't. My husband is not interested in that as a topic. He's gotten to the scene where stuff starts happening and he still says, "Nothing's happening."

And, there is a change in the first chapter. They have yet another tiff and he finally agrees to see someone to talk about a baby. He's hesitant because she wants to see the psychic who keeps saying there are ghosts in the house, but if that's who she wants to see, he'll go just to try and get along.

In my first paragraph I make references to the ghosts in the house.

What I need is knowledgeable readers, but I've lost all my local contacts over the years and I don't want to pay someone to look at it. I know that sometimes people here will help each other out, but I am hesitant to give the actual manuscript to someone I haven't met.

I am concerned about it being short, but don't want to add words to just make it longer. I actually have a short story about the characters from the perspective of an outsider that's fun. I thought maybe I could include it and some other related short stories.
The problem MAY be your husband! I just told mine about my next novel--how excited I'm about it, and he said, Well, so what happens there?

You could post you first several pages here (it has been done). I wouldn't trust my entire MS to a stranger either, but I have no problem with the first 5-10 pages.

Re length. My novel was 49000, and I was convinced it couldn't get any longer without adding fluff. But it is now 69000, and I think it can grow another thousand or two. Most of it was basically expanding descriptions--being really vivid etc.

My kids are 8, 5 and 2!
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