One of the fun things you get to do as a writer once in a while is helping out with programmes which can get first-time writers published. There are lots of competitions, mentor programmes and manuscript assessments offered in New Zealand and overseas and it you are pretty serious about that 70,000 words you have just finished and think they’re pretty good, it’s worthwhile to enter these competitions. They’re helpful on your CV if you’re accepted and may just make a publisher take a little bit more interest in you.
So I had the first three chapters of about 30 novels and several pages from some poetry anthologies to read one wet, cold afternoon to pick which ones were worthy of an assessment or a mentorship. It was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be and for some of the novels I wanted to read more than just the first three chapters supplied – I wanted to know what happened in the rest of the book!
But there were two things that really struck me with about two-thirds of the entries. Firstly, a lot of them were really boring, and I mean really boring. Entrants had to also supply a little bit about themselves and some of their life stories were more interesting than their novels! And what’s more, some of these really boring stories were more than 100,000 words long. Whatever you do, don’t write 100,000 words about anything. Publishers are not going to look at a novel that long – it’s too expensive to have a book that big printed so, unless you are a best-selling author, don’t do it.
Okay, apologies, that was two things in the last paragraph, but here is the second thing that really got me annoyed. Boring starts. My dad, when he used to teach us kids how to play card games in the caravan when it was raining on summer holidays (it happened a lot) used to always say lead with your biggest and your brightest card. I can still remember his voice saying it, decades later. And it’s something that applies not only to playing cards but also to novels. Lead with your biggest and your brightest. Build your story from something exciting, something scary, something compelling or no one (let along a potential publisher) is going to get past the first chapter.
Hope this helps. Remember, no boring stuff.