Talking to Myself

37 Paying Markets for Flash Fiction

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David Weller

Apr 3, 2018
I’ve never been satisfied with any of the opening pages I’ve written for Truthseeker so the chance to receive an honest appraisal from an industry professional was one I couldn’t pass up.

On 29th April, Peter kindly reviewed my submission. If anyone is interested it’s the second one on the chopping block and starts about 18 minutes through the broadcast.

Peter’s assessment started well because he liked the title.

That was a relief. I hate falling at the first hurdle.

However, he wasn’t quite so sure about the first sentence because it didn’t contain a comma, and he had to read it twice. Was the omission intentional? Perhaps it was a stylistic thing?

Not sure. I used to be guilty of comma overload. Maybe I’m now leaning the other way. However, it could be that I didn’t pause for breath when I wrote it.

The second sentence didn’t score any Brownie Points either as he felt it was moving into clunky territory.

Something I need to look at.

He said that beginnings are always difficult and that there isn’t a writer born who doesn’t find the first line/paragraph/page a bit challenging. He went on to say that people do make snap judgements.

I assumed he was referring to agents and put the Champagne back in the fridge.

The story opens with the protagonist in the middle of an event which Peter thought would be okay if done skilfully. However, several other characters are mentioned on the first page and he felt that there were too many as we didn’t know anything about them yet. He wondered if this was intentional.

It was. I’d restricted the opening scene to just one character, but didn’t think mentioning others would be an issue. In the Hunger Games, for example, Katniss Everdean’s mother, sister and her sister’s cat are all mentioned on the first page (not to mention some worms, fleas and vermin.) However, I can see the difference. In the Hunger Games mentioning these other characters/creatures didn’t appear to cause any confusion. In my opening the reader has no idea who the other characters are and what their relationship to the protagonist is. The rewrite will address this issue.

Peter said he liked the economy of expression – the use of a small amount of words for the maximum amount of meaning.

I believe that younger readers prefer dialogue and action to flowery descriptions of the sunset. Maybe this has influenced my writing style.

As Peter read on to the bottom of page 2, he felt that he was still in the dark and didn’t really know who the protagonist was or where we were. He said this was okay for a while as a reader’s curiosity could drive them on.

Wary of depositing any info dumps, I tried to feed in details gradually. Maybe I was overcautious in this respect.

Peter didn’t feel the end of the first chapter was compelling enough.

I agree. I’d recently restructured the novel into shorter chapters and whilst this point in the story was an obvious break point it still needed revision.

Peter said that the target readership would enjoy this, but that it wasn’t quite strong enough to get a publisher hooked. However, he said that there was nothing major and it was definitely on the way. He went on to say that publishers are always looking for reasons not to buy manuscripts. This had nothing to do with making an overall judgement of an author’s writing value. Rather it is whether they believed it would work financially within 18 months.

Peter offered a couple of suggestions for improving the piece and making it more attractive to agents and publishers:

  • A bit more scene setting at the beginning. He thought that some of the information in the covering note could be written into the first few pages, especially as far as the context is concerned.
  • Get the reader more invested in Elisha so they care about her fate. He suggested ‘Matching’ which is having something happen to her that the reader can identify with and say to themselves ‘I know how that feels.’
  • He agreed with a suggestion made by Katie-Ellen that more could have been made of the image of the crawling babies.
Peter concluded by saying he would be very keen to see what else I do and that he enjoyed my submission which ‘wasn’t half bad.’

Many thanks, Peter, for reviewing my opening pages. I came away from this experience with some useful advice for improving them and a little wiser about the inner workings of the publishing industry.
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Kudos to you David, both for the material you submitted, I enjoyed that, and for sharing your feedback. Those babies were one heck of an image :) What an opening scene/shot that could make.
I thought it was an interesting point about what readers could cope with. Peter didn’t quite say this I think, but he implied it was possible young fantasy devotees would be fine with your story, but perhaps not agents who would be older and perhaps more used to other genres even if they had a particular interest in fantasy. That might be slightly depressing, but it has a certain ring of truth to me,
Thanks Katie-Ellen. I keep changing the opening pages and have built up quite a collection. On reflection, I don't think the latest version is the best, but hopefully the next one will be. Your suggestion for the opening scene is certainly worth considering.

I also hope to submit pages from The Secret of Heathcote Manor in due course. It's an Upper Middle Grade time travel adventure set during the Siege of Colchester in 1648. AgentPete obviously has an interest in this period so I think it might be right up his alley.
You certainly made your post stand out.

It's probably useful to do a post-mortem but hopefully don't beat yourself up.

If you have many versions of the first chapter then maybe it's a good idea to work on a different part for a while so you can get perspective.
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Talking to Myself

37 Paying Markets for Flash Fiction