The First Five Pages

Editors always tell novice writers that the first few pages of a manuscript are crucial in the publishing process — and it's true. If an editor or agent (or reader) loses interest after a page or two, you've lost him or her completely, even if the middle of your novel is brilliant and the ending phenomenal. Noah Lukeman, an agent in Manhattan, has taken this advice and created a book that examines just what this means, and I have to tell you, it's one of the best I've read.

I've written (and seen published) pretty close to a dozen novels in as many years — some are still to be published and will be out shortly; others are already out of print after four years. But I wish I had read Lukeman's book, The First Five Pages, when I began writing fiction.

I'm glad I did now. It has helped, immediately. I'm already embarrassed about some of the goofs I made in my writing — and I've been revising recent prose with his advice in mind.

First off, Lukeman is a literary agent who once was an editor, and his editorial eye is sharp. If every novelist and short story writer in this country had Lukeman as an editor, we'd have a lot more readable prose out there.

He writes:

Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don't seem to understand is that if their execution — if their prose — isn't up to par, their plot may not even be considered.


This bears repeating, because in all the books I've read on writing, this is an element that is most often forgotten in the rush to come up with snappy ideas and sharp plot progressions. You can always send a hero on a journey, after all, but if no reader wants to follow him, you've wasted your time.

In a tone that can be a bit professorial at times, Lukeman brings what prose is — and how it reads to others — into sharp focus. He deals with dialogue, style, and, most importantly, sound.

Sound.

How does prose sound?

It must have rhythm, its own kind of music, in order to draw the reader into the fictive dream. Lukeman's tips and pointers are genuinely helpful, and even important with regard to the sound of the prose itself.

Lukeman also brings in on-target exercises for writers of prose and the wonderful advice for novelists to read poetry — and often.

Those first five pages are crucial, for all concerned. But forget the editor and agent and reader. They are important for you, the writer, because they determine the sharpness of your focus, the completeness of your vision, the confidence you, as a writer, need to plunge into a three- or four- or five-hundred-page story.

The First Five Pages should be on every writer's shelf. This is the real thing.P#151;Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous novels and stories, including The Halloween Man and the collection The Nightmare Chronicles. In addition, Clegg is the author of the world's first publisher-sponsored Internet email novel, Naomi.