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:
- Introduce the story-worthy problem
- Hook the Reader
- Establish the Story Rules, and
- 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.