Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reference Book Review: The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection PileThe First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title of Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages is intentionally misleading. Lukeman's focus of the first five pages of a manuscript adheres to the principle that if there are problems within the first five pages then there most certainly will be problems in pages 6-10, and 11-15, and so on.

Agents and editors see so many manuscripts that they often look scan for typical errors--errors their trained (and overworked) eyes can spot immediately. Once an error is spotted within the first five pages then most will make the leap that similar mistakes occur throughout the piece and therefore is no longer worth their time. And into the recycling bin it goes.

The title is a warning then for all writers--either take the craft seriously or ask yourself why are you even bothering. There are neither tricks for good writing, nor are there magical formulas to adhere to within the first five pages.

In terms of helpfulness, Lukeman's book is better placed on the desk of a writer than a teacher of writing. Yes, there are terrific examples which a teacher can use to lead discussion, but his exercises at the ends of each chapter require quite a bit of time. It would be challenging to incorporate some into a high school or middle school creative writing class. They are more appropriate for the individual writer or a writing group--someone who is serious about writing and invests much into it fits this book much better than a 16-year-old student who signed up for a course because they liked writing stories.

Lukeman arranged the book in three parts--the first part covering the most blatant and easily recognized faults of writers: presentation, adjectives and adverbs, sound, comparison, and style. The second section of the book devotes itself entirely to dialogue while the third and final section goes by the title of The Bigger Picture and it sets to provide strong examples of Viewpoint, Hooks, Subtlety, Tone...

Aside from the section on Adjectives and Adverbs, I liked the book for the writer in me, not so much for the teacher in me. He explains his point clearly and offers strong examples of poor attempts at ________ and better attempts at ___________. You fill in the blanks. If you are on the cusp of sending out a manuscript, and you want something to guide you through the core basics, this book should certainly be in your reading pile. While there is plenty to consider here you certainly won't be led down the path of editing your own manuscript as a second full-time job. I like the book for the reason that the advice adheres to Lukeman's core message--if you are serious about the craft then give yourself the best shot and try to understand how the agent and editor will view the basic components your work before reading it closely or tossing it aside. Put yourself and your manuscript in the best possible position and learn how to avoid common errors and strengthen your work so that it actually attracts their attention.

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