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?
- 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.
- 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?)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 🙂