Workshopping the first 50 pages

Next week is a big week in the life of my new novel. My baby – at least the first 50 pages of it – is taking its first steps at an advanced novel workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. For the first time, total strangers will read what I’ve written and tell me what they think about the story I’ve been laboring over for the past few years.

I haven’t been toiling in isolation all this time. My writing buddy Mary Gottschalk has walked this long road with me. She is also writing her first novel. We consider ourselves able critique partners, but we agree we know each other and our respective stories too well. It’s time to get others involved.

The first 50 pages of a novel bear a great responsibility. An article by Les Edgerton in Writer’s Digest (the Oct. 2011 hard copy version, unfortunately, not online) titled, fittingly enough, “Your First 50 Pages–The 4 Goals Your Beginning Must Meet,” points out that these pages must:

  1. Introduce the story-worthy problem
  2. Hook the Reader
  3. Establish the Story Rules, and
  4. Forecast the End

I hope that my first 50 pages do all that, but readers will judge whether I’ve been successful. Beyond what Edgerton outlined, this workshop will look at the characters and point of view, the balance of summary and story, the use of dialogue, prose style, voice. The list goes on.

Many emotions swirl in my chest as I think about this workshop, but fear is not one of them. I’m filled with eager anticipation. In spite of the fact that I just learned my novel will be critiqued first. Gasp! Past experience with the Writing Festival workshops reassures me that the workshop leader will guide the discussion to a productive end. Other participants will be honest and helpful, knowing they, too, will sit in the critique chair that week.

At the end of this workshop, I expect to have an understanding of what works in my first 50 pages and what doesn’t hit the mark yet. I expect to have clear thoughts to guide my next round of rewriting. I expect to know whether I’m still on track to have my manuscript ready for an editor and beta readers later this year.

This workshop is just the first of several reader hurdles to cross before my work of historical fiction is ready to publish. But, yes, I’m excited. One more step on the journey to my first novel.

Comments

  1. Carol, enjoy every minute of it! I’ll be eager to hear about your experience. Diane

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I will, Diane. For the rest of this week, I’m reading and critiquing the work of the other authors. Doing a good critique on 50 pages is a big responsibility.

  2. Hi, your workshop does sound exciting. I’m also writing a historical fiction. I just got it back from the editor and will be tackling my rewrite soon. Right now it feel like a daunting task but I will handle it. Good luck with your book. Shirley

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      So exciting I can hardly sit still, Shirley! I hope to go to an editor once I see how close to the mark I am on this 50 pages.

  3. That sounds great! I hope you and Mary both get much out of the workshop! One of the best things I ever did for my writing was to get it critiqued by others.

  4. Hi Carol, yes, it is always nail-biting to have people read your baby and discuss it. But a healthy process. Many a time I read my crits with dread, but at the end, I know it was for the better.

    • I spent my professional career in the public relations business so I always expected my writing to be critiqued. I never took it personally (and I know this is different because this is MY baby), and the critique always made it better.

  5. Hi Carol,
    I did my graduate work at the Iowa Writers Workshop. It was a great experience. I’m sure you’ll get plenty of valuable critiques as well as the chance to meet other writers and perhaps editors too. Can’t wait to read about how it went.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I’ve never been disappointed in the Summer Writing Festival workshops. Iowa is a hotbed for writing inspiration. I always come away with more stories to write than I went in with. And generally I have many new friends. I’m impressed that you did your grad work at the Writers Workshop, Mary. I’ve been impressed reading your blog posts. Now I know one reason why.

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