Saturday, May 30, 2020

When it comes to hooking an agent, simply hoping they like your voice, style, etc... simply won’t cut it. Unbeknownst to many new writers, there is a formula—specific key elements that must be in your first pages. After page three, preferably by page one, the reader (or in this case potential agent) must be able to answer these six questions:

Who is your main character? This one sounds like a duh, but you’d be surprised how often this small, yet vital, piece of information doesn’t show up until page ten. What is your MC’s name? Is your MC a child? A dog? A rock with an unlikely sense of humor? Tell the reader who they are reading about.

What does your main character want? Your MC has to want something. To quote Robert McAdams, a great mentor and writing guru, “It can be as simple as wanting a cup of coffee, and as serious as wanting to kill someone.” Who wants to read about a character who is utterly content, someone who has everything they want and will never want anything? Yeah, boring.

Why does your main character want what they want? Take it from Lisa Cron, author of Story Genius, if you want people to care about your story, you must be able to answer this question: Why? Let’s say your main character wants something as simple as coffee. Ask yourself why your MC (let’s call him Jerry) wants it. Maybe Jerry pulled double-shifts at Burger King and he needed the caffeine to get through his 6 a.m. Physics class. That’s great. It helps the reader. But don’t stop there. Why does Jerry care about his Physics class? Maybe he’s retaken this class three times and it’s his last chance before losing his scholarship. Answering the why creates depth to your story. Always—through your entire manuscript, not just the first page—tell the reader why.

In what world, country, state, universe does the story take place? Here is another obvious, yet elusive detail. It might be important to mention whether your MC is floating in outer space or their backyard pool in Beverly Hills pool. Just sayin’.

What is the ticking clock? The clock. It goes hand in hand with stakes, and everyone knows that a good story has high stakes. Back to Jerry. Jerry wants coffee before his 6AM Physics class. There is your ticking clock. His class starts at 6 a.m. and he needs to get coffee before then or else what? This is where stakes come to play. Jerry has ten minutes to get to class before his final exam. He knows if he doesn’t get that coffee he will fall asleep and ultimately fail the final. This brings us to the last key element.

What stands in your main character’s way? It wouldn’t be much of a story if all Jerry had to do was leisurely stop by Starbucks on his way to class without one thing holding him up. No, that again would be boring. Write about all the terrible forces keeping Jerry from his desperately sought-after cup of coffee. Because, that is what makes a story.

Cortney Winn is one of Word Addicts marketing gurus. She is currently working on her first novel Embers of The Phoenix. Learn more about Cortney HERE

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