Monday, October 30, 2006

Writing Sample: The First Five Pages

So one of my submissions is going to be the first chapter of my novel. All of my recommenders said it was by far my strongest piece, but one thought I might need to reshape the piece for submission--the first three pages are highly experimental, and my old profs were concerned a reader might be too confused to slag through it.

The prof suggested a cut that makes the piece, shall we say, mighty sexy. But I feel a little anxious about it--do I need to model myself for my viewers, or do I need to present them with my real writing?

I know you haven't seen the actual excerpt so it's hard to comment specifically, but do you think in general it's good to shape your stories for the purpose of submission?


Prolific in Prague (formerly Anxious in Austin)


PiP, this is a great question. In relation to your specfic circumstance: It sounds like your professor is a thoughtful person whose opinion you respect. I'd listen to him/her if I were you.

In a more general sense, I'll paraphrase something that George Saunders said in the MFA Handbook: "Bring your best stuff and bring who you are in those first few pages." Again, that's a paraphrase, but I think an accurate one. What he means is: the MFA committee has to read hundreds of manuscripts. Make sure you show them your best stuff, and the writing that shows them what kind of writer you are, in those first five pages. Otherwise, the following thirty-five or so might not get read.

Thanks for the question. Rock on.


Nora Robertson said...

Thanks Tom, for some very concrete advice on novel excerpts. One other question I have is whether it is risky to include literary but graphic sexual content. Also, I have 110 pages of this book so far (most of which has been workshopped in a writing group) and I'm wondering if I ought to pick one longer excerpt or a few key scenes, and whether it would be important to include the novel's opening. Obviously this is difficult to comment on without reading the pages, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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