10.06.2006

Flaming Corpses on Page one

Greetings Oh Sharp-witted Daughter of Harsh Gods,

Watching you at work on a most-excellent friend of mine, I was forced to notice the short-comings of my own beloved creations -- I don't write books with large numbers of corpses or explosions -- and I was left wondering...
Apart from writing a book more amenable to the query process, which is the better strategy...

a) creating a query that highlights the grabbiest parts of the book but will be sent with sample pages that are somewhat slower paced (creeping tension rather than immediate corpses) or

b) writing a query that reflects the more thoughtful nature of the book and so doesn't lead to a disconnect between salespitch and sample?

(or c) something else)
I await the enlightenment only your spiky-stilletoed self can provide,

Thank you :)


Ms Tortoise



I know this will come as a horrifying shock, but I've been known to take on and actually sell work that doesn't have a corpse or a flame thrower on the first page.

Those works came to me with compelling writing. They gave me incentive to read on. It's a lot harder than it sounds as you know.

One of the now-cliche pieces of advice on how to write compelling paragraphs about your book is to read the flap copy of books you like. Then you practice writing it for books you've read and compare it to what the flap copy says. Then you write one for your own book.

You might consider the End-of-the-Year CoM. If you can hook me without blood, bullets, and burning bouffants I'll be quite pleased to read your pages.

Blood, bullets, and burning bouffants aren't meant to be taken literally. It's a metaphor for grab my attention and keep me riveted.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first page needs a hook and if possible the seed of conflict as soon as possible. Neither of those need to involve corpses. I've read some fine books that grabbed me without throwing out dead people in chapter 1.

SAND STORM said...

Note to self keep lighter away from her Highnesses coif...

Linda Adams said...

Remember, most people tend to start their book with little happening other than a warm up exercise for the writer. It's such a common problem that writing books recommend dropping the first fifty pages because that's usually where the story begins to get started. Bodies don't need to be on page one, but there needs to be a clear sign that we're wading into the story, not drowning in description or backstory.

katiesandwich said...

Actually, I met a man at a writer's conference whose ms was rejected BECAUSE there was a dead guy on page one.

Anonymous said...

As Miss Snark said a few months back, get rid of the batting practice, just step up to the plate and swing.

Cautionary Tale said...

When writing my novel, I chose to open with strong writing and character, but no major action. After reading Miss Snark, I started to get nervous about this approach, so I invented a action-packed, violent prologue intended to "hook" an agent.

Fast forward a few months: the one agent who requested a full said she loved the voice, writing and characterization, but she was going to take a pass because the beginning was too violent for her tastes.

Whoops.

Live and learn, I guess. (Still not sure what I learned.)

Anonymous said...

'Flaming Corpses on Page One' needs to be added to the Snark City Lexicon. ("A dramatic event intended to hook the agent's attention, and persuade her to keep reading. The flames and corpses may be either metaphorical or literal.")

Anonymous said...

The handsome CEO of a major corporation thought: I wonder why the attractive and sexy First Lady is late. He didn't know the First Lady was a flaming corpse. Nor did he realize that the angry President of the United States was coming up the front steps with a flame thrower.

Anonymous said...

This is a comforting Q&A for me, since I'm in the process of writing a creepy coming-of-age novel that lacks physical violence until the end.

Although the entire story arc is plotted, I'm not done with writing the first draft (I'm a little better than halfway through the plot). I know that this is a REALLY dangerous time to begin lopping and chopping, and that it will be preferable to do the editing when it's time to, yanno, edit... but oh, the temptation I've been feeling since the Crapometer!

Maybe this encouraging advice will get me to quit fretting and futzing around, and just get my ass back to work.

Snarkaholic said...

Who was that famous movie guy that said all you need for a great story is a girl and a gun?

McSwilligans said...

I saw a lot of flamin' corpses at a funeral parlor in Chelsea.

Snarkaholic said...

Maybe this encouraging advice will get me to quit fretting and futzing around, and just get my ass back to work.

Well said.

skybluepinkrose said...

There's a story about the writer who couldn't figure out what in the galaxy editors wanted, so he went to a conference to hear a famous author speak. Famous A had just sold his latest novel, set against a backdrop of thunderstorms and downpours -- a real "It was a dark and stormy night" thing. "Eureka!" yells the writer, scurrying back home to his keyboard. "There's not enough RAIN in my book."

What you learned, Cautionary Tale, is that if your book doesn't call for rain, corpses, serial scrubbers, Terminator 4, etc., don't put them there. The point isn't to write someone else's book; it's to write your book but skip the throat-clearing and start with the good stuff.

yosssarian said...

I'd caution against trying to write a query that's more exciting than the book. I did that, in a fervor of trying to hook agents. Sure, got lots of requests for pages...and rejections all the way around. Because they requested A, and got B.

K.Irene said...

Skybluepinkrose-

Well said....now if I could only figure out how to get rain into my Western fantasy novel based up an ancient sect of Christianity run by a 13 year old wizard set in Death Valley...

Orhan Kahn said...

There is only one other person who knows about my corpse, but on the first page or the few that follow. And even when you do get to the corpse it isn't dead. But trust me, it is dead. And it's not a zombie because zombies are stupid and boring.

I've said too much.

carrie said...

"I'd caution against trying to write a query that's more exciting than the book. I did that, in a fervor of trying to hook agents. Sure, got lots of requests for pages...and rejections all the way around. Because they requested A, and got B."

What a great point! A great query may get you requests, but we have to deliver on our promise. That's the hard part.

Anonymous said...

The point isn't to write someone else's book; it's to write your book but skip the throat-clearing and start with the good stuff.

Fabulous advice, Skybluepinkrose.

judy said...

In the heat of trying to get an agent's attention, it seems that writers go looking for a gimmick that will grab agents attention on page one. Although said gimmick may work in some stories, it isn't going to work in yours. And who wants to build a book on gimmicks anyway?

Write your story. Make it compelling as possible. Make the writing sparkle. And be sure that your first few pages have something that will compel an agent to continue reading.

What is that thing in the first few pages? Hell if I know. Every story is different. It could be a character, it could be the writing itself, it could be the premise, it could be a lot of things.

Just write the danged story as best you can.

Word verification: glepe
This is what you say after you write something that might get you flamed.

Dave said...

What could you do with this opening?

My strange tale begins as I look out the window, I can see a car spin out of control. It hits one, two, three other cars, a truck, a bus and a tanker. Cars and busses wreck behind it and finally, a gasoline tanker flips and bursts into flame on the highway. Flaming bodies run from burning cars. The fire, like roaches fleeing the light, crawls from tanker to car, car to bus, bus to passenger, man to child and woman, figure to figure, hair to hair. Like sparklers in an evil fireworks display, they scatter spreading destruction hither and yon.

I want desperately to summon help but the aliens have me strapped to a table. Their knives sparkle in the ruddy glare of the fires. Their probes reflect flickering red as they descend towards me. I wonder if they’ll gleam as bright with my blood. I scream.

{wink}{wonk}{nudge}{nudge}

Snarkaholic said...

Iwant desperately to summon help but the aliens have me strapped to a table. Their knives sparkle in the ruddy glare of the fires. Their probes reflect flickering red as they descend towards me. I wonder if they’ll gleam as bright with my blood. I scream.

So what happens next?

Dave said...

WHAT happens next?

Like dude, gag me with a spoon. The heroine wakes up to the kisses of her loving poodle and finds out it's that rare occurence of a double bad dream from chewing too much doublemint gum. She wins the lottery with a double boxcars and retires to Walla Walla with her boyfriend Chuck Chuck.

Inkmandoo said...

Everyone here should read the first page of Rober Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize winning "All The King's Men" and report back.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh for the magic answer as to what works and what doesn't. What was that you said? Hard work? Editing? Aaaarrgh! (I'm meeeelting, meeeelting...)

word veri: uckkr. You decipher that one, I'm not touching it!