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BrainPick Multiple POV - can they work?

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Catherine Le Bars

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Thanks for everyone's support at Pop-Ups last night. It was both sobering and edifying to see our work discussed in public :)
Of the various elements we didn't get right (most of which we can easily rectify), starting with a secondary character's POV was clearly a problem for the panel, even though it was intended to lead the reader from the outside into Darwin's world.
Given that @gbhunt and I use four POV in our series, I'm hoping that some of you may be able to help us achieve that without confusing the reader. So, my questions are:
- Should we flag the multiple POVs in the blurb, or just include it in the query letter? We accept that many agents don't like it, especially from new authors.
- Must we always start a book with the main protagonist's POV?
- Aside from thought tags and ensuring each character has a distinctive voice, is there an accepted way of switching from one POV to another? We separate them by scenes or chapters.
- Is there anything else we should consider?
All comments are welcome. We believe in our story and know many types of readers will enjoy it once they are drawn in.
 

Victoria Bastedo

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I actually liked the beginning of your story, except you would need to make it obvious the hedge-cutting guy was just there to observe and not the main character. People do, these days, expect the story to begin with the main, but, as long as you make it clear, which you were very close to doing, you can start the way you did.

I don't think you need to flag the multiple POV's in the blurb. If your story is clearly told they won't catch anyone up, so why confuse the blurb?
I once wrote a book with two distinct main characters. I wrote three chapters from hers, and then three chapters from his. I always made certain it was a new chapter when I switched. Point is, no reader has ever even seemed to notice.

'We separate them by scenes or chapters.' That is correct.
 

CageSage

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Using thought tags isn't the way to go.
Nor is flagging it in the blurb.
The most obvious way to show who belongs to the POV in the current scene is to put their name in the first paragraph (but not always as the first word). This makes it clear to the reader who 'owns' this scene.
It's always better to start with the main character, at least until you're confident with your writing skills (I'm not confident I could start with a non-main character POV and I've been at this quite a while).
How to indicate the changes in POV:
If the POV changes, as with setting/location or a new timeline is entered, a new scene commences and at the start of a new scene is the best time to indicate the change of POV to the person first named in the new scene.

I have a sticky note on the computer:
If it's a new who (POV), where, when, it's a new scene.
 

CageSage

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It may be worth going back to the concept of why the beginning is the beginning. It sounds like it is currently setting things up, rather than opening the story with a Why Do I Care (from the reader perspective).
First, find the Who, Where, What, which need to be made clear.
I'd think that would be the vet in the new location in the new job, so I'd expect him to be both the main character and the opening scene POV.
How do you write a scene?
I use the goal, conflict/obstacle, result structure (may not end up being as planned, though, and I always come back to the opening to ensure that the question raised here is how the end is defined for the reader because the answer is achieved, one way or the other).
The goal which answers the first part of the Who, What, Where could be:
The vet is ready, the power's on, the receptionist/nurse is at her desk. He peers out the door, no one's here, why not? And he worries, maybe they don't have dragons here, after all. Maybe they don't have any of the creatures he'd been so keen to work with. He waves at the gardener, what's his name again? One day, he'll know all their names, but today he just wants to settle in, get daughter into school, and meet the local creatures.
Change of scene to the gardener's POV.

However, now may be the time to ask why you need each of the POV characters -- what do they bring to the party apart from a different perspective? Are they part of a subplot that strengthens the through-line of the main story?

What is the heart of the story, and how do each of these main characters play into that, whether as friend or foe or other?

And I'm just spouting, so it may not make as much sense to anyone else other than me, but this is how I do stuff now.
 

Catherine Le Bars

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I'd think that would be the vet in the new location in the new job, so I'd expect him to be both the main character and the opening scene POV.
How do you write a scene?
Darwin is the main focus of the first scene (only 650 words), which then leads us directly into his POV in the following chapter.
We would like to give an outsider's view of him first, because as a newcomer to the town he is the object of much curiosity and speculation. And this is a significant theme of the story, especially given that he has a secret and doesn't welcome the scrutiny.

After some discussion, our plan is to trim and clarify the first scene using Rigby's POV, and write an alternative scene using Darwin's POV, and then put both to the group to see which leads you all into the story most effectively.
However, now may be the time to ask why you need each of the POV characters -- what do they bring to the party apart from a different perspective? Are they part of a subplot that strengthens the through-line of the main story?
Thanks @CageSage. Always appreciate your comments and insights.
We need and want the different POV characters. They each have very important roles throughout the series, and allow us to share things with the reader that we keep from the characters themselves, thus heightening conflict, tension, and humour. It's possible we are being too ambitious, but I'm pretty sure our reasoning and execution (aside from that critical first scene) are sound.
If we can't achieve the multiple POV, the first book can be rewritten but it would take some convincing or many rejections :)
 

CageSage

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If we can't achieve the multiple POV

I don't think you'd need to stick to a single POV for the story, but it needs to be from a story perspective rather than what the writer wants to tell the reader. The question to ask of each of their roles is how does it play into the main story line/question/purpose?

Darwin is the main focus of the first scene

As I didn't see the submission on pop-ups until later, I'd disagree about the concept of Darwin being the main focus from the perspective of a reader. We (the reader) haven't met him and we don't see him until late in the scene, so he's not the main focus. The garden/setting is, and Rigby's internalisations.
How would the story read if the Digby scene was removed altogether and the story started with scene 2? It's worth a try to see what happens/how it feels. It happens to lots of writers, who end up chopping off the first chapter/scene altogether and filtering in the important information later in the story. Not that I'd admit to it ...
 

RK Capps

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Pop ups is sobering but such a useful experience :) You held your own :)

Should we flag the multiple POVs in the blurb, or just include it in the query letter?

I wouldn't recommend it in the blurb because it's such limited space. If you put it in the query and mention "first novel" you could spook agents away. Best to entice them to read pages and let your MS speak for itself. That's just my take though :)

Must we always start a book with the main protagonist's POV?

There's no rule that says you must do anything (really helpful, I know, sorry). Trust your gut. Like @Victoria Bastedo said, these days starting with the main character is more common, but it's not necessary. I'm reading something ATM, released this year, which started without the main character. But she's not a debut, and her 3 POVs are intricate to the plot.

We separate them by scenes or chapters.

IMHO, chapters are stronger. Some authors (like GRR Martin) head the chapters up with names. The one I'm reading at present is headed "him" and "her" and the third is italics. I'm sure there are other ways :)
 

Catherine Le Bars

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I don't think you'd need to stick to a single POV for the story, but it needs to be from a story perspective rather than what the writer wants to tell the reader. The question to ask of each of their roles is how does it play into the main story line/question/purpose?



As I didn't see the submission on pop-ups until later, I'd disagree about the concept of Darwin being the main focus from the perspective of a reader. We (the reader) haven't met him and we don't see him until late in the scene, so he's not the main focus. The garden/setting is, and Rigby's internalisations.
How would the story read if the Digby scene was removed altogether and the story started with scene 2? It's worth a try to see what happens/how it feels. It happens to lots of writers, who end up chopping off the first chapter/scene altogether and filtering in the important information later in the story. Not that I'd admit to it ...
It's great to have this input, because quite honestly I am blind to that aspect. These are the opening few paragraphs...

Rigby stabbed his shears at the wintersprout bush and swore to himself. Opening day was proving dreary as a witch’s tit.
“Where are the dramatics?” he grumbled. “Where are the urgencies?”
From behind the fence, with its warped wooden palings, he was well placed to view the front door of Avalon Lodge, but all he’d seen so far was the new owner stepping out to buff his brass plate: ‘Dr Darwin Leigh, BVetMed, FRCMS. ALL CREATURES WELCOME!’
The doctor was tall and lean, with a serious face. Steady as an oak, ''


I've no problem with cutting this scene, but in my mind we are focusing on Darwin from the beginning of the fourth line and move on to Rigby speculating about what he has heard about Darwin. I understand it's not working for some of the readers; I'm trying to understand why it isn't working before we dump it.
I am also wondering whether the 'carry on' language we adopted to take it away from the YA label, and the other two characters coming in soon after this bit are distracting the reader?
 

Catherine Le Bars

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There's no rule that says you must do anything (really helpful, I know, sorry). Trust your gut. Like @Victoria Bastedo said, these days starting with the main character is more common, but it's not necessary. I'm reading something ATM, released this year, which started without the main character. But she's not a debut, and her 3 POVs are intricate to the plot.
Thanks, Rachel. Yes, it is possible that if we were not debut authors we would have the skill and the audience to accomplish this :)
 

Mythobeast

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I can think of a few memorable cases where the first chapter of a book isn't from the main character's POV. Almost all of them involve someone dying or getting lost or leaving a major clue for the main characters to find. Two examples that illustrate this:

Sanderson's Stormlight Archive starts with a king getting murdered. The Assassin in White isn't a major character until much later.

The first scene of the 2009 reboot of Star Trek shows Kirk's father getting blown to bits by a mysterious entity.

I'll add more when they come to me.
 

Catherine Le Bars

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Get someone to beta read for you, see what they say?
Good idea. We had it professionally assessed last year, after about 4 beta readers looked at it. (I know there are beta readers and 'beta' readers), but I think we will do it again. I reckon we can sort this opening chapter out without too much trouble, with a bit of help from you guys.
 

Victoria Bastedo

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The opening paragraph is important, for without everything being totally clear, the reader is lost. Readers begin a story with assumptions, i.e., Rigby must be the main character. First off, because you give Rigby a name, you're saying he must be important. Is he? If he's only there to entertain, thereby helping you, the writer introduce the scene of interest, then don't give him a name. Something like this might be better:

'The man across the street was well-placed to view the front door of Avalon Lodge, and as he stabbed his shears at his wintersprout bush, he swore to himself. He thought opening day across the way was proving to be as dreary as a witch's tit.
'Where are the dramatics?' he grumbled. 'Where are the urgencies?'


This isn't perfect, I know, but, it tells you this is a bystander. Colorful neighbor who's heard of something coming and has expectations.
 

Catherine Le Bars

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The opening paragraph is important, for without everything being totally clear, the reader is lost. Readers begin a story with assumptions, i.e., Rigby must be the main character. First off, because you give Rigby a name, you're saying he must be important. Is he? If he's only there to entertain, thereby helping you, the writer introduce the scene of interest, then don't give him a name. Something like this might be better:

'The man across the street was well-placed to view the front door of Avalon Lodge, and as he stabbed his shears at his wintersprout bush, he swore to himself. He thought opening day across the way was proving to be as dreary as a witch's tit.
'Where are the dramatics?' he grumbled. 'Where are the urgencies?'


This isn't perfect, I know, but, it tells you this is a bystander. Colorful neighbor who's heard of something coming and has expectations.
Thanks, Victoria. Rigby is the 'watcher' of our series and one of the 4 POV. He is very important because he sees things that the others don't, but obviously he ranks lower than Darwin. So... we have to find a way to communicate that right off the bat
The first book ends with Rigby seeing something of note, so he does provide a nice circularity.
 

CageSage

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Rigby stabbed his shears at the wintersprout bush and swore to himself. Opening day was proving dreary as a witch’s tit.
This is exactly what says it isn't focused on Darwin. We have a name and a need, and neither of them are Darwin. I like the shape and style of the scene, but if it were a second scene rather than the opening scene ...
In the end, though, you have to be happy with it. And the main thing to keep in mind is the reader, so anything that confuses a reader could stop them continuing with the story. That's been a hard lesson for me -- it's about the story, but not my story. There is only one writer (okay, for you, it's two), but there need to be many, many, many readers for a story to meet it's full potential.
 

Barbara

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Couple of thoughts:

Check out 'The One' by John Marrs. He has multiple POVs, and I mean multiple. In a sense, he treats all of them as their own novel (with their own arcs etc) although they are one story (o_O hope that made sense). A bit like @CageSage said in your villain thread about treating everyone as their own star in the show (they all think the book is about them). John does this wonderfully. Each chapter is a new POV and he ends each POV with a cliff hanger which begs you to continue reading that particular thread. He then continues the next chapter/POV with a powerful beginning which gives the reader a great big 'read me'. But the POVs don't ever compete with each other; they complement each other and drive the story forward. You end up unable to put the book down, greedily wanting more. It really is cleverly done.

As for your question about dumping the following:

Rigby stabbed his shears at the wintersprout bush and swore to himself. Opening day was proving dreary as a witch’s tit.
“Where are the dramatics?” he grumbled. “Where are the urgencies?”
From behind the fence, with its warped wooden palings, he was well placed to view the front door of Avalon Lodge, but all he’d seen so far was the new owner stepping out to buff his brass plate: ‘Dr Darwin Leigh, BVetMed, FRCMS. ALL CREATURES WELCOME!’
The doctor was tall and lean, with a serious face. Steady as an oak, ''
I'm not sure if you need to cut this scene as such but I think you need to re-look at it. I know this isn't the Writing Groups but just a quick thought on this para. What I think this opening is missing, is the invitation to read, and also what Pete calls cookies. The paragraph is basically saying Rigby is bored and nothing happens in this world. If I read the first two lines, I'm wondering why I would want to read about this place. He says there are no dynamics and no urgencies. I know it's the reality of many first days, but using it at the beginning of a story is like a subliminal way of saying this isn't going to be exiting to read because nothing will happen. I think you need to start differently. This following is just a simplistic example and probably not what's going on in your story, but something like 'where are all the poisoned dragons? They said they have loads of poisonings we will need to treat? Where are they?' Now you have the cookie of the poisoned dragons as well as mystery of who is doing this to them, and where they are. So yes, I agree, road testing it in Writing Groups is a good idea.

Hope this helps. As always feel free to ignore what doesn't resonate.
 

Rich.

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Hi Kate, I didn't catch the Pop-Ups last night, but I'll now endeavour to do so! :)

A few general observations (in the vein of there-are-always-exceptions-but-unpublished-authors-beware):
- Should we flag the multiple POVs in the blurb, or just include it in the query letter? We accept that many agents don't like it, especially from new authors.
Contrary to what's been said above, I would definitely flag this, along with the reason for it (and it should be a strong one) – a story about such-and-such, told from X many points of view that explores blah-de-blah from conflicting perspectives. That kind of thing.

- Must we always start a book with the main protagonist's POV?
Yes – if you wish to pay heed to prevailing wisdom.

- Aside from thought tags and ensuring each character has a distinctive voice, is there an accepted way of switching from one POV to another? We separate them by scenes or chapters.
Scenes and chapters are the standard way to go. Labelling chapters with character names is common. There's good advice above.

- Is there anything else we should consider?
Is the reason for telling your story from multiple POVs strong enough? Are you sure it wouldn't achieve your aims if told from a single POV or through an omniscient narrator? Whenever you change POVs the reason should be compelling, and it should be easily explainable, so much so that it will silence the majority of critics.

Easy, eh? :)
 

Hannah F

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When you know your story and main protagonist back to front and inside out, they can be the main part of a scene in your head . . . even when they're not.

I think this is the case with the Rigby opening. I'm trying to think objectively as someone who doesn't know the story: they might glance at the first page without even reading the blurb and they might think the book is Rigby's story and his dealings with a dragon-healing veterinarian.
It's a lovely, amusing scene and well written, but your next scene is brilliant so I think you could leave your Rigby intro out. I suspect, as he's a snoop, you can get most of the fun of this scene elsewhere.

I had chapters from another's POV but changed it so whenever my main protagonist was in the scene it was her POV, and it was much better.
 

KateESal

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Hey, Kate!

First up, I loved reading your first pages for Pop-Ups...it's always fun to have a mix of characters to play with and I enjoyed Rigby's gardener vocab.

Re: the POVs.
As a reader, I'm not a big fan of multiple POVs. They're not a deal-breaker for me, but I prefer to be monogamous to one POV when reading a novel. I suspect many modern readers share that preference, as do a lot of agents and people in publishing, hence why it can be tricky for a debut author to get a multiple POV book a traditional publishing deal. Nowadays, the bigger publishers commission by committee...it's hugely frustrating in some respects, as Peter will tell you, but your book needs to get past a whole bunch of people before they'll throw any money at you...hence why it's wise to try and minimise the reasons they may find for rejecting it. Of course, small presses might be willing to take a punt on books that don't quite fit the prevailing publishing wisdom, so if you're not too bothered about getting a Big Five deal, that's another route to take :)

If the premise, voice and writing of your novel combine to be irresistible, the multiple POVs will be accepted (although you might find yourself fighting the point with an editor further down the line).

Your idea of offering two alternatives for the Writing Groups to consider is a good one. And there are lots of useful takes on the subject in the posts above. Good luck, I'm definitely rooting for The Dragons of Havendale.

ONE THING you may or may not be aware of is that Lindsay Galvin's newest novel Darwin's Dragons is being published soon by Chicken House. I think it's upper MG and somewhat different in premise from your own book. But worth bearing in mind because the title is uncannily close...
 

Catherine Le Bars

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First up, I loved reading your first pages for Pop-Ups...it's always fun to have a mix of characters to play with and I enjoyed Rigby's gardener vocab.
You brought it alive! We were very disappointed with our score but realised after a second viewing (NOT at 3am) that there was some valuable feedback. And some positives to take from the evening.
If the premise, voice and writing of your novel combine to be irresistible, the multiple POVs will be accepted (although you might find yourself fighting the point with an editor further down the line).
Rigby's patois and Issy's childlike view of things are fun and worth fighting for, but we will do whatever is required to get this story into the best hands we can find :)
Your idea of offering two alternatives for the Writing Groups to consider is a good one. And there are lots of useful takes on the subject in the posts above. Good luck, I'm definitely rooting for The Dragons of Havendale.

ONE THING you may or may not be aware of is that Lindsay Galvin's newest novel Darwin's Dragons is being published soon by Chicken House. I think it's upper MG and somewhat different in premise from your own book. But worth bearing in mind because the title is uncannily close...
I just checked that out. Thanks. It's a shame but as you say a totally different premise. Darwin's name is important but nothing is set in stone.
Thanks again. You've given me a boost :)
 

Catherine Le Bars

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Check out 'The One' by John Marrs. He has multiple POVs, and I mean multiple. In a sense, he treats all of them as their own novel (with their own arcs etc) although they are one story (o_O hope that made sense). A bit like @CageSage said in your villain thread about treating everyone as their own star in the show (they all think the book is about them).
Thanks, Barbara. I''ll check that one out.
What I think this opening is missing, is the invitation to read, and also what Pete calls cookies.
Agreed. We will work on that! Thanks for the feedback; every bit helps :)
 

KateESal

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We were very disappointed with our score but realised after a second viewing (NOT at 3am) that there was some valuable feedback. And some positives to take from the evening.
Yes, it is tough when you've worked so hard on something, yet people seem to find even more reasons why it isn't quite there. I think we all learn the lesson that as authors, criticism and disappointments come with the territory...doesn't make it easier, but having a growth mindset about it definitely helps. Good for the pair of you that you've taken on board the positives as well as the negatives and that the feedback is helping you think of ways you can make Dragons... irresistible to the publishing industry (and by extension, readers). We've had a number of authors who went through the Pop-Ups process, re-shaped their projects in accordance with the feedback they received and went on to secure publishing deals.

:)
 

Jonny

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Sorry missed this thread yesterday. On the general issue of multiple POVs and not your sub. Multiple POVs can certainly work.

I think the application of "rules" can be very confusing and counterproductive for an author. Unflinching devotion can lead to the natural voice being pushed out of the work and so render it sanitised, formulaic and pretty dull.

Though as is always the case we have to play by some - grammar, spelling and structure for example. But if we all use the same roadmap in our work don't we all end up in pretty much the same place?

The trick is if we break the rules then we have to make the way we break them work for our readers. How do we do that? Ah... that's the $64,000 question, the certain je ne sais quoi that were it quantifiable then we'd all be boarding that bus to bestseller land.:)

One famous rulebreaker springs to mind in particular. James Joyce divides the literary world and depending on who you speak to he was either a genius or awful. I only say this to make the point no one's right or wrong in this game. One reader's favourite book is another's ideal prop for a broken bed leg.

I'm currently reading a brilliant crime thriller, Fifty-Fifty by Steve Cavanagh. It has multiple POVs. As with GRR Martin in GoT they are clearly flagged up and each character becomes the focal point of their chapter. Now if you read some creative writing advice then the conclusion we must draw is that structurally it must be the wrong approach. But try telling Mr. Cavanagh that. He's topping sales and award lists everywhere and he's certainly not a household name.

I guess what I'm saying is nothing is right or wrong and that it all comes down to the story, the characters and the execution. Make them engaging and compelling and the 'rules' sometimes don't matter.
 

Rich.

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I think the application of "rules" can be very confusing and counterproductive for an author. Unflinching devotion can lead to the natural voice being pushed out of the work and so render it sanitised, formulaic and pretty dull.
I think you're right, Jonny, especially the 'unflinching devotion' bit. [Apologies to @Catherine Le Bars because I might be veering this thread slightly off track with my next comment.] But... and it's quite a big but... form (structure) is a rule that, I think, can be applied without stifling creativity. Indeed, form is something that should be applied by an author interested in writing commercial fiction (and there are plenty of different forms to pick from!).

I think it was the poet Robert Frost who said, "Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net."

And Shakespeare seemed to get on very well with the sonnet.

I think it's natural for us creative types to be frightened by the imposition of 'rules'. But I also think that form is something, when approached willingly, that focusses creativity, gives it expression – is a crucible of passion. :)
 

Victoria Bastedo

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You brought it alive! We were very disappointed with our score but realised after a second viewing (NOT at 3am) that there was some valuable feedback. And some positives to take from the evening.

Rigby's patois and Issy's childlike view of things are fun and worth fighting for, but we will do whatever is required to get this story into the best hands we can find :)

I just checked that out. Thanks. It's a shame but as you say a totally different premise. Darwin's name is important but nothing is set in stone.
Thanks again. You've given me a boost.

Pop ups is hard to get through. My submission was back in February, and whew! it wasn't graded by scorecard then, nor did you have to wait a week to discover who won. I can see why Agent Pete changed it, however. The scorecard, and then the vote as it comes in over the week is so telling. Make sure you wait to see what happens before you feel too negative about your submission. However, one thing I think it might be beneficial for Pete to consider bringing back in is the 'Turn the Page' option. When I had my submission in pop ups, I wasn't expecting the highest ranking from any of the panel, which was something like 'I want it now!' (Nor did I get that) But my big hope was that they might 'turn the page'. That's important to me, because I know I'm not a sterling writer. I'm a storyteller. If I can just get you to read a little bit, I hope my story will sweep you away. I suspect, if they'd been asked, the panelists might very well have said they'd turn the page on your submission.

Perhaps, in order to make the first scene clearer, you could give Rigby his name later, after the reader is established in the story.
 

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