The first reaction to this post’s headlines may be: What? Only five? No, I’ve made many more than five mistakes when writing my first fifty pages of my thriller novels. We’ve all heard not to begin a novel with description, dialog or a dream, but here are my most frustrating mistakes:
1. Endlessly rewriting the first fifty pages before soldiering on and finishing the novel. It’s almost an addiction. I can’t stop myself from rewriting. Of course, I have valid reasons, like trapping my hero at the top of a volcano, only to realize that he has no reason to be there in the first place. I try to monkey wrench in the setting. Maybe he needs to stop explosives from blowing up the volcano, or he needs to steal the remote transmitter that will signal in the villain’s strike force. I feel that it’s too good a scene to simply abandon, but it’s just not working. The good news is I think I’ve found a cure. More on that at the end of this post.
2. Making a walk-on character too intriguing. In the opening scene of my current work, my beta readers, the men anyway, all love the wisecracking, edgy pilot. I love him, too. But he is just a device to land my heroine on the mysterious island and into the middle of the action. Still, I just may bring that pilot back in the end. A character who was going to be a walk-on in my thriller, The Seventh Stone, made himself so valuable that he is now in my work in progress.
3. Writing a prologue. The debate rages on this one. But with Ebooks, I think more than ever you have to start right off with your hero in the action. When potential readers “Look Inside” your Ebook on Amazon, you have very few pages to involve them in the story. The easy solution to this “mistake:” Replace the word “Prologue,” with two words, “Chapter One,” and tie it to my cure for endlessly rewriting the opening scenes, which I reveal below.
4. I’m not entirely convinced on this one, but more and more I’m seeing that the traditional “front matter,” including the copyright page, should come at the end of your Ebook. Many readers do not want to scroll through pages before reaching Page One. Wherever you decide to place the copyright page, include a link to your website.
5. Trying to weave in too much backstory too soon, while neglecting the main focus of the story. Often, writers do a great job with a hook in the first paragraph, only to backpeddle and try to justify it with backstory in the paragraphs that follow. Keep the story moving forward. Once the reader is strapped into the rollercoaster, let it rip, and don’t stop until the end of the ride.
Now for the cure for endlessly rewriting those first fifty pages. I stumbled upon this while reading a Writer’s Digest article by Jeff Gerke, who wrote Plot Versus Character. He writes: Make no mistake: Your book is about what your main character decides at her moment of truth. Everything else is just the vehicle to drive her to that penultimate moment. (Writer’s Digest, February 2012 issue)
I now know just what to include in my opening pages and why. Every line has to tie in with this main focus of my story. If you’re struggling with a scene that just doesn’t feel like it’s working, ask yourself if it is focused on propelling your main character, and your reader, to that moment of truth.