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We all know, when it comes to getting published, having a fantastic first chapter can make or break an offer. For many, anything beyond the first few paragraphs of chapter one rarely see the light of day.

Here are some great comments from the professionals on what they DON'T want to receive.

Posted by Chuck

Agents Chapter 1 Pet Peeves:



"Anything cliché such as ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ will turn me off.  I hate when a narrator or author addresses the reader (e.g., 'Gentle reader')."
        - Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary

"Sometimes a reasonably good writer will create an interesting character and describe him in a compelling way, but then he’ll turn out to be some unimportant bit player. Other annoying, unoriginal things I see too often: some young person going home to a small town for a funeral, someone getting a phone call about a death, a description of a psycho lurking in the shadows, or a terrorist planting a bomb."
        - Ellen Pepus, Signature Literary Agency (formerly Ellen Pepus Literary)

"I’m really turned off by a protagonist named Isabelle who goes by 'Izzy.' No. Really. I am."
        - Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management

"I dislike opening scenes that you think are real (I rep adult genre fiction), then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.  And so many writers use this hackneyed device. I dislike lengthy paragraphs of world building and scene setting up front.  I usually crave action close to the beginning of the book (and so do readers)."
        - Laurie McLean, Larsen/Pomada Literary Agents

"I do in fact hate it when someone wakes up from a dream in Chapter 1, and I dislike an overly long prologue.  The worst thing that you can do is let that crucial chapter be boring - that’s the chapter that has to grab my interest!"
        - Michelle Brower, Folio Literary Management (formerly Wendy Sherman Associates)

"I don't like an opening line that's 'My name is...,' introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly. I might be prompted to groan before reading on a bit further to see if the narration gets any less stale. There are far better ways in Chapter 1 to establish an instant connection between narrator and reader. I’m also usually not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it."
        - Michelle Andelman, Lynn C. Franklin Associates (formerly Andrea Brown Literary Agency)

"I hate seeing a 'run-down list:' Names, hair color, eye color, height, even weight sometimes.  Other things that bother me is over-describing the scenery or area where the story starts.  Usually a manuscript can lose the first 3-5 chapters and start there. Besides the run-down list preaching to me about a subject, I don't like having a character immediately tell me how much he/she hates the world for whatever reason.  In other words, tell me your issues on politics, the environment, etc. through your character.  That is a real turn off to me."
        - Miriam Hees (editor), Blooming Tree Press

"Perhaps my biggest pet peeve with an opening chapter is when an author features too much exposition - when they go beyond what is necessary for simply 'setting the scene.' I want to feel as if I'm in the hands of a master storyteller, and starting a story with long, flowery, overly-descriptive sentences (kind of like this one) makes the writer seem amateurish and the story contrived. Of course, an equally jarring beginning can be nearly as off-putting, and I hesitate to read on if I'm feeling disoriented by the fifth page. I enjoy when writers can find a good balance between exposition and mystery. Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further. It is what keeps me up at night saying 'just one more chapter, then I'll go to sleep.' If everything is explained away in the first chapter; I'm probably putting the book down and going to sleep."
       - Peter Miller, Peter Miller Literary

"1. Squinting into the sunlight with a hangover in a crime novel. Good grief -- been done a million times. 2. A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape. 3. A trite statement ("Get with the program" or "Houston, we have a problem" or "You go girl" or "Earth to Michael" or "Are we all on the same page?"), said by a weenie sales guy, usually in the opening paragraph. 4. A rape scene in a Christian novel, especially in the first chapter. 5. 'Years later, Monica would look back and laugh...' 6. "The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land."
       - Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary



"Here are things I can't stand: Cliché openings in Fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle (and my peeve is that I don't know any of the characters yet so why should I care about this battle) or with a pastoral scene where the protagonist is gathering herbs (I didn't realize how common this is).  Opening chapters where a main protagonist is in the middle of a bodily function (jerking off, vomiting, peeing, or what have you) is usually a firm NO right from the get-go. Gross.  Long prologues that often don't have anything to do with the story. So common in Fantasy again.  Opening scenes that our all dialogue without any context. I could probably go on..."
       - Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary

"I recently read a ms when the second line was something like, 'Let me tell you this, Dear Reader...' What do you think of that?"
        - Sheree Bykofsky, Sheree Bykofsky Literary

"I know this may sound obvious, but too much 'telling' vs. 'showing' in the first chapter is a definite warning sign for me – the first chapter should present a compelling scene, not a road map for the rest of the book. The goal is to make the reader curious about your characters, fill their heads with questions that must be answered, not fill them in on exactly where, when, who and how.  Don’t ever describe eye color either..."
        - Emily Sylvan Kim, Prospect Agency

"Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking ... Authors often do this to transmit information, but the result is action in a literal sense but no real energy in a narrative sense. The best rule of thumb is always to start the story where the story starts."
        - Dan Lazar, Writers House

"I hate reading purple prose, taking the time to set up-- to describe something so beautifully and that has nothing to do with the actual story. I also hate when an author starts something and then says '(the main character) would find out later.' I hate gratuitous sex and violence anywhere in the manuscript.  If it is not crucial to the story then I don't want to see it in there, in any chapters."
        - Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary
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:iconicecheetah:
icecheetah Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2010
Featured here: [link]
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2010  Professional Writer
Great article :)
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:iconicecheetah:
icecheetah Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2010
It's not an article as much as a few links, but thanks!
Reply
:iconerrantcrow:
ErrantCrow Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2010  Professional Digital Artist
Where have these LateNightLady articles been all my writing life? Thanks, and I am definitely pointing people towards you in the future.

E.C.
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2010  Professional Writer
hehe thanks :)
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:iconrb-illustration:
RB-Illustration Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2010   Digital Artist
This is really helpful for me right now, especially since I'm just about to rewrite the first few chapters of my book after it got rejected again. 8D
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2010  Professional Writer
That's the worst - did any of the agents critic you at all?
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:iconrb-illustration:
RB-Illustration Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2010   Digital Artist
No, the most I got was 'even though your novel may not be right for us, it may be perfect for another company'. Which was nice, but not very helpful. X3 The worst was when Scholastic sent the three chapters back with no comments because they were in a strop because I forgot to pay for the postage and they had to pay £1.20! Oops. :XD:
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2010  Professional Writer
oh bad lol
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:iconkawaii-demonic-thing:
:giggle:
i love MacGregor's quote =]
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2010  Professional Writer
He's a Christian agency too! Looked him up after I posted this.
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:iconmemnalar:
Memnalar Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010
Well done. :)
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010  Professional Writer
Thanks
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:iconharvest-jacobina:
harvest-jacobina Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010
I guess the fact that I start stories differently each time is a good thing.

Nevertheless, thank you so much for sharing this! :D
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010  Professional Writer
That is probably a fantastic thing :)
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:iconlit-twitter:
Lit-Twitter Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010
Chirp, it's been twittered. :)
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:icontox2wallz:
tox2wallz Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010
i personally disagree with some of this, after all, it all depends on context, how it's done, who is reading it, etc, however much of this is all very solid advice; thanks very much for taking the time to post this ^^

Chip MacGregor's just made me laugh at the truthfulness of it xD
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010  Professional Writer
You know - every agent is different and in the end, you must write for you.
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:icontox2wallz:
tox2wallz Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010
that is a very good philosophy :)
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010  Professional Writer
Plus - it got me through all my rejections lol
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:icontox2wallz:
tox2wallz Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010
:lmao: i'll definitely have to keep that in mind for the future, thanks :hug:
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2010  Professional Writer
:)
Reply
:iconliquid-etherealism:
liquid-etherealism Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010   Photographer
Cliché openings in Fantasy can include an opening scene set in a battle

Amen! :XD: I'm guilty of this, too. Thanks for the list :heart:.
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010  Professional Writer
My pleasure. I will post more when I come across them.
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:iconcinnamon-quill:
cinnamon-quill Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010
Ah yes, I've come across this source of quotes before. Very nice.
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:iconlatenightlady:
LateNightLady Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010  Professional Writer
I actually queried a few of these agents and received a lovely rejection from each. Interesting to go back and look at their thoughts.
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:iconautumn-hills:
Autumn-Hills Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010  Professional Writer
Thanks so much for this!
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:iconautumn-hills:
Autumn-Hills Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010  Professional Writer
Thanks so much for this!
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:iconsirbret:
SirBret Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010
Very helpful, and I admit to more than two of the aforementioned peeves. :)
Reply
:iconmagic-fan:
Magic-fan Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2010   Writer
This is great. =) It will definitely help writers know what to avoid when writing.
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January 24, 2010
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