Four ways to make an intern set fire to your first chapter

In her last week as an intern at Speilburg Literary Agency, Mica is sharing some of the  irksome things in submissions that led to her persona as Frustrated Intern. Check back on Friday for a last piece of advice from this summer’s Frustrated Intern.

As an intern, I have had to slog through queries like a traveler slogs through mud. And after a while, I started to notice the danger zones: places where I was least likely to keep my footing. These are what I like to call “maddening trends,” and the worst of them were exclusive to Writing Samples. So here it is, Part One of a list of things you can have in your first chapter—if you want to create a very Frustrated Intern.

1)   The First Sentence has Errors.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is the worst. But bad editing in general can really take away from the story. (Be especially careful of run-ons.)

2)   The First Sentence is Dialogue.

As my writing teacher used to say, “If you start a story with dialogue, you’d better know what you’re doing.” He’s right: quotation marks don’t ground a reader, nor do they do much to introduce a story—so don’t use them in the first line. If you’re a skeptic, why not try something different—and then see if you really lose anything.

3)   The Main Character is Unconscious.

Countless books begin with some variation of the waking-up/”Where am I?” train of thought. This can include the in-and-out state, waking to pain, wondering if you’re alive, wanting to die, or sulking. Often, you can more strongly begin your story without using italics.

4)   The Prologue is Lame.

Almost EVERYONE has a prologue, and most are boring. Often they are no more than unnecessary novelties; some should be a first chapter, and some are things that can be told in the course of a story (like the history of a world). A prologue should ADD something in a very different manner than other chapters—it should show different characters, or foreshadow something. In any case, a prologue ought to carry the informational weight of three chapters—not one.

-Frustrated Intern

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