Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The First Chapter

Not too long ago, I "met" another writer re an on-line group. She needed the definition of what, exactly, Christian fiction is within the CBA. I had an answer and shared it with her. Well, we talked because she was thinking about going to Mount Hermon this year and I've been. One thing led to another and I ended up offering to critique her first chapter, which she planned to include in a proposal for MH. It was her first novel and she was hoping to find an agent.

I am not a published writer, but I think I have a solid grasp on what constitutes a good novel. Of course, everyone's taste is different, but I think there are certain things a first chapter needs and one of them is that it should grip you. Strongly. If it doesn't grab you by the throat and pull you into the story, it's not doing it's job. And by "you" I mean not only the reader, but the potential editor and agent who might review it. And, in my humble opinion, this author's work was not doing that job. It was more about giving the reader a lot of backstory, a technique I'm very familiar with and used in my first novel. Boy, did I ever! :-)

So, I told the author, as gently as possible, what I thought, both good and bad. She had some great characters and her grammar/punctuation was impeccable, her writing above average, but she wasn't grabbing anyone with the chapter. I told her, she thanked me, and I never heard from her again.

I say all of this because I was reminded of that episode today when I read Dave Long's post here. He is an acquisition editor at Bethany, so reading first chapters is his job. And he says almost the same thing, including this:
Read ten or so pages. Ten pages is enough to tell whether the nuts-and-bolts writing is impressive enough for me to keep reading. Rare are the books that are written in cliché and weak language for fifteen pages that suddenly turn into Joseph Heller.
If your first few pages aren't compelling, what chance is there that you'll be stunning on page one hundred?