Hello!

For last month’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, I talked about ways to make your first chapter stand out in the slush pile. This time, I’d like to look at partials. What makes an agent/editor upgrade from a partial request to a full?

If an agent requests a partial it usually means at least two things: 1) they like your writing 2) they like your concept. But what keeps them from upgrading from a partial to a full?

  1. What’s happening – and what isn’t? 
    • Sometimes, nothing happens in the first chapter – and sometimes, nothing happens in the first fifty pages. This is common. I read so many manuscripts where the first fifty pages are just info dump, introduction to characters, and filled with mundane activities. Everything is set up to eventually lead to a plot (and sometimes not even that).
    • Typically, in a story, your character has a goal/objective, if they don’t achieve it something bad will happen (stakes), but something stands in their way (obstacles/conflict). If I’m fifty pages in, and I still have no idea what your character’s objective is or where the story is headed, then I’m not going to be tempted to read further.
    • Most likely, at this point, your character should have been in pursuit of some small (or larger) goal that they’ve achieved/failed to achieve (turning point) or is in the process of achieving.
    • Tip: Try to summarize your first fifty pages to yourself (or write a synopsis). What’s happening? If you’re having a tough time answering and realize you’re just describing random events which don’t affect the plot – not a good sign. If, however, you have an easier time “X realizes she needs Y, but first she has to achieve Z.” And you can describe how she goes on to achieve Z and the bumps along the way – then you’re most likely on the right track.
  2. Active Characters
    • This ties in with the point above. Make sure your character is doing something. That is, make sure your character doesn’t just have a reactive role – that a bunch of stuff is happening to them and we just see their reaction.
    • Your MC should have a role in moving the plot forward (as opposed to just being moved around by the plot).
    • Tip: Give them a goal (ha, it’s getting a little repetitive, huh?)
  3. Connecting with the MC 
    •  If at this point in the manuscript I still feel as though I don’t know the MC or haven’t connected with them, I might not be tempted to want to read further. Why should I root for this character?
    • The great thing about giving your character a small goal at the beginning is that it’s a great way to learn about them – what they want, why they want it, what they’re willing to do to get it, and which lines they won’t cross. It’s a great way to form a connection between the MC and reader, especially if their goal is relatable.
  4. Pacing
    • Each scene in your story has to move the plot forward. If you have several scenes or chapters where nothing is happening, and which don’t contribute to the plot, then you might be slowing the pace down – which can make an agent/editor lose interest. You’ll want to tighten the pace to keep things moving forward and keep them from skimming to get to the interesting parts.
  5. Conflict
    • Like I said, typically, your character will want something, but they’ll be facing some sort of obstacle. You’ll need conflict and tension in those first fifty pages to keep readers on their toes and make them want to continue reading. If everything is going smoothly and there’s no tension – well, where’s the fun in that? Again, the key is to keep them hooked.

 

You’ll notice that these points kind of link together. You want some sort of event to be unfolding at a strong pace, which often requires a goal and conflict, which makes for active characters and allows to form a connection with readers.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule 🙂

18 Comments

  1. You definitely have to sell the whole story in the first fifty pages! Getting a partial request always gets your hopes up–it’s a very exciting time, and you’re biting your nails. A full request, and you chew them right off! (Not that I know, I just heard from…a friend. *coffcoff*)

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  2. Excellent post! It’s always helpful to see what happens on the other side. Is there a chance, though, that the writer and story ticks off all of those boxes but still doesn’t receive a request for a full? And why?

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    1. Thank you! There is a chance of that, and the reason for that is subjectivity. That’s why some writers will have their partials upgraded to a full by one agent, but rejected by another. Sometimes, it just comes down to individual taste. BUT the good thing is that’s completely out of the writer’s hand; they only have to worry about their craft 🙂

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  3. This post gives me a new perspective on submissions. Thank you. I think sometimes a as a writer we are so involved with our characters we forget the agent needs to feel that same way and they might not.

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  4. Wait. Just so I have this straight, you want me to give me MC a goal? 😉 Great post. I hadn’t given much consideration to partial requests and what they mean, because I’ve never received a partial request before. To be honest, it’s always intrigued me. If an agent or pub is interested in a story, why not just ask for the full and then stop reading when they want to stop reading. It seems to me like it’s more work to request a partial and then a full down the line. There must be something I’m missing about this whole partial thing. 🙂

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    1. LOL. I know. I get annoyed with myself cause I’m like “THIS IS TOO REPETITIVE” and then I look at my reader reports where 98% mention lack of goals and active characters and think, “Meh. It’s worth mentioning again.” Haha. That’s a really good question! I think the reason would vary among agents. It might help them in organizing in terms of deadlines (longer time to respond to fulls)? Or, it might be just a way of testing to see how much they’re into it? Like, if they reach the end of the partial and think, “meh, I don’t really care to know what happens” they won’t bother to request additional pages, but if they reach the end and think “I NEED THE REST NOW” it’s a good indicator of how much they’re into it? Just guessing. We only deal with fulls at Entangled :p

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  5. All are great tips. I like the idea of writing a synopsis after the first 50 pages to see if anything is happening. I’ve started writing a complete 2-3 page synopsis of my works in progress as a outline to lead me forward, but it also serves as you suggest, a test of the book’s action and interest.

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  6. One of my instructors used to often say “Write the rough draft, then go back and see how much you can cut from the beginning. How late in the story can you start, and it still works?” There’s often a lot that we, as writers, need to write to “get to the ‘real’ story.”

    I also admit, one of my pet peeves is a character who doesn’t actively influence their own fate, where their choices ultimately prove moot, regardless of what they choose, or they advance because of chance and luck, rather than through knowledge or skill.

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