The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke probably is one of the best writing reference books I have read. It is littered with different coloured post it notes sticking out the side for a quick jump back into it at any time. Why one of the best books? Oh dear, where do I begin? It’s the kind of book you want to read and re-read and re-read. You want to force every sentence to stay permanently fixed in your writing head.
Ok, I’ll begin by saying this book is intended to help all aspiring novelists and writers and authors to hook both their reader and a potential publisher in the first 50 pages. That said, it has so much writing advice for your whole novel or scriptwriting project not just 50 mere pages.
Compelling opening scenes will be your key to catching an agent or editor’s attention and of course crucial to keeping your reader … well, reading. Jeff Gerke sets out to ensure you know to begin your novel with the skill and intention to land you a book deal and keep reader’s eyes glued to every page. But he doesn’t just do that. He arms any wannabe novelist with all the fire-power to create a page turning story.
Jeff divided The First 50 Pages into two parts. The first gets you inside the head of the head of the first people who will encounter your opening pages – editors and agents so you know what they’re thinking and what factors help them decide to give you a writing contract.
Secondly, he provides you with insight into what you have to accomplish in your first 50 pages to pull this off. He goes into so much detail with important little things like beats and dialogue and beats to break up dialogue.
And speech attributions. Jeff explains why it’s important to have characters inaction or not in action in your opening pages as well as the dos and don’ts of things like flashbacks and show and tell.
So many good writing reference books explain about conflict and Jeff says quite simply: no conflict, no publication. Fiction is conflict. Not only agents and publishers are looking for stakes as your readers will be doing too. Later in the book, he explains several ways to up the ante so your reader can care about your hero from page 1!
Jeff uses lots of movie examples – for good reason – to help you see in your mind’s eye the visual aspects to your story improvement. In other words, to place a visual scene in front of your reader like placing someone in front of a camera and showing them doing things rather than telling us (the readers) what they’re doing.
Telling is when you stop the story to explain something the reader doesn’t care about. So why do it? This excellent writing teacher teaches you to reveal info through showing and thus advancing your story while revealing character traits.
For point of view Jeff says – one head at a time so pick a head and stay in it. You need to master this in your first 50 pages and beyond.
Engage Your Reader
Job 1 is to engage your reader so part 2 of the book which starts at page 60, begins with starting a ticking bomb. You set up your character’s flaws or knots to show us how it is affecting him or her from the outset.
Part 2 is the truly engaging part, jammed and crammed with so many excellent teaching points, from introducing your character and establishing their worlds to the one-act play and 3 act structure.
The author explains how organising your piece of fiction can benefit this story telling framework which ensures that you have included all the necessary pieces for a complete narrative construction.
I read another writing reference guide on this a few years ago and use this myself when constructing my stories. I also loved chapter 12 and I was so hugely inspired, my brain went into over drive as the gems rolled off the pages and I found instantly the solution to a problem in one of my novels that had been nagging at me for so long.
Along with pages of detail your 1st line and what makes it engaging and showing the book’s tone with the ‘right hook’, Jeff advises you on several ways to begin your book.
Should it be prologue, hero action, in media res or in frame device? This is where my resolution was found and I rushed off to rewrite my beginning.
No matter what, no matter how, no matter when, every – I say again – every novelist has to have a copy of Jeff’s The First 50 Pages right beside their writing pad or laptop!
To dive in and out of, to remind themselves about 50 pages of wisdom, to get inspiration, to learn. All of that.
Go now and get it before you pick up your writing pen or set fingers to the keyboard. Go now. No more needs to be said …