Hey guys, happy Tuesday! It’s Alex again and today I’m here to talk about one of the most common pitfalls I see in first pages: lack of action.

Interns (and agents) read through a ton of queries and an equal amount of first pages. First ten, first chapter, first twenty-five, however many you’re asked to send, these are the pages in which you make your impression. Your job is to make us want more, make us clamor to get our ereader-filled hands on the full, and most of all make us form a connection with your main character. And you know that whenever you edit these, somewhere “Eye of the Tiger” is always playing.

But more often than not, when I read through newly received queries I see a lot of internal conflict and not as much of the external. Maybe it’s the first day of school and the MC has nervous feelings, or maybe the MC is trying really hard to keep a secret but it’s an otherwise normal day. What’s the external action? Ostensibly, no different from any other day.

Kate gave a really great piece of advice a while back on Twitter when she suggested to “start on the day that it’s different.” Sure, we need to get some grounding but the magic fact of today is: readers honestly don’t need that much background info early on.

Seriously. It’s difficult to want to keep reading when nothing happens outside the mind of the character, and while this is true especially for first pages, it’s also good to keep in mind for the rest of the book. You need that steady zing! of external action balanced with interior conflict to keep a reader hooked and stakes high. Agent Mary Kole has a great post about that here.

Another great tip from Ms. Kole is imagining scenes in your book as scenes from a movie. Would a director focus only on a character paused before action or stuck in thought for minutes? Or would you see contemplative moments punctuated by escapes, confrontation, and other outside tension? Same with starting scenes: pretend you’re filming the very first scene in your book, the one that makes up your ten pages. What directions would you give the actor playing your main character?

The more you can get your readers to have an emotional connection and investment in your character from the beginning, the more willing we’re going to be to stick with them to the very end. Putting characters into conflict helps, especially starting them in a situation that’s different (like the day at school the lab blows up or someone finally steals the principal’s toupee) even if it starts out familiar at first.

The more willing you are to put your characters in uncomfortable situations, the more likely we’re going to see some quality in them that we connect with, and that, ultimately, will keep us reading more.

Alex Yuschik is an intern to a literary agent and can be found @alexyuschik on Twitter.

Be Inspired (with horses)

by,  Alex Yuschik

(Disclaimer: I’m an intern, not an industry professional. While I think you should listen to me because I’m awesome and I’ve read a lot of subs and queries, my advice should always be seen as a guideline and not the final word on an issue.)

To kick this off, I want to talk about inspiration.

Reading something that knocks my socks off is one of the coolest parts of this job and so, since this is my first post here (hi!) and I’m keen to start things off with a bang, I want to talk about inspiration and why it’s such a make-or-break thing for me when I read subs.

But to talk about inspiration, I need to talk about horses.

I was ten or eleven when my mum signed us up to take horse-riding lessons. I was totally prepared– I had an illustrated horse guide with how-to’s and everything. My guide told me one bit of crucial horse advice that I would later see more sinisterly as a tagline to alien/horror flicks or sometimes as a joke, but that ten-year-old, city-child me took with deadly seriousness: horses can sense your fear.

Maybe “sense your fear” wasn’t the best way for the guide to have worded it. Horses are perceptive and they’re willing to work with you as a rider, but they’re also not going to let you have control if they don’t think you can handle it. They’ll judge your ability to lead from certain cues you give them on purpose or subconsciously and decide how to react.

As a reader, I let a writer direct my thoughts with their story. Still, my own instincts kick in when I see a character do something unbelievable or when a story tries to draw me to a conclusion I don’t think is valid; it’s like trying to convince a horse to jump across a sixty-foot wide swamp, aka, not gonna happen.

Remember when I said a horse picks up on subconscious cues as well as direct ones? So do readers. Look back at some of your favorite scenes you’ve written, the ones that you wake up early to finish, then make yourself late for appointments to revise. They have an energy to them, right? Look at scenes between these, the ones that maybe accomplished necessary plot twists or character development but didn’t have your heart in them. Is the energy the same? Probably not.

The scenes I love most are the ones that I can tell the writer enjoyed writing. You have to write what moves you. Your audience can pick up on your investment in a scene, and they’ll be less willing to follow you into high-stakes emotional territory if your writing isn’t pushing them on. People are most likely to put down a book or manuscript when it falls into the humdrum, the oh-I-need-to-take-care-of-this-plot-device-so-hold-up scenes rather than the scenes you’ve been dying to write.

So, my tip for today? Take a scene that you know falls flat and re-imagine it so that you’re inspired to write it again. Maybe change something– put the epic battle on a wharf instead of an alley. Maybe add a new layer of emotion. Switch it up, get your creative mind in gear and thinking I can do something with this.

Because that is what I want to read, ladies and gentlemen. I want to be pulled into your story from the very first page and I want you to be so damn inspired writing it that I can’t put it down because it’s inspiring me, too. I want a manuscript that I can tell you loved writing from start to finish. Don’t forget that readers are creative people, too–  the more into writing it you are, the easier it is for us to get sucked in.

Readers are perceptive. We know when your heart isn’t in something and when it is. Though not horses (but if horses could read that would be pretty cool), your audience will still pick up on both direct and subconscious things happening in your work and will gauge their interest in the story based on how much you’re invested in your scenes. So get inspired! Take breaks, shake things up to spur on your creative self, and most of all, keep going.

Exercise: take a scene you’ve been having trouble with and change something about it, maybe a character, a backstory, the setting, anything that makes you feel more inspired, then re-write it. How does the new writing compare to the original? What did you change? Tell me in the comments! –Alex

Alex Yuschik can be found on Twitter @alexyuschik.