Friday, June 15, 2012

Fixation Friday: Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson

Yesterday was my first official day at Lit Fest 2012 put on by Denver's own the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. It was really great. I started my day with an agent critique of my manuscript. It was an enlightening experience and I was grateful for such solid feedback on areas I need to work on. These kinds of meetings can be a difficult pill to swallow, but writing forces you to grow a tough skin. I've trained myself to see every bit of constructive criticism as a positive thing. When the advice is good, it will help improve your work and make you a better writer. If you don't agree with the criticism, that's fine too. Not everyone will love your work. It's best to get used to that idea sooner rather than later.

My favorite part of the day was An Agent Reads the Slush Pile with super agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. All attendees of the workshop submitted their first two pages for Kristin to read aloud (anonymously, of course!) as if they had come across her desk from the slush pile. As she read each one, she explained to the class when she would have stopped and why. There were a handful of standouts that she would have asked to see more pages from. Most of what she explained were the tried and true tips I've read in a lot of places:
  • Watch the use of a prologue.
  • Don't open your novel with a dream sequence, someone waking up, or any kind of bodily function.
  • Don't overload your first pages with exposition or too much background.
Some of the tips she mentioned that I never really considered were:
  • Sometimes as writers we tend to break up a scene with extraneous information. It's best to be mindful of how and when we pepper in any commentary. Sometimes that extra information can get in the way of the action and stop the flow of the scene.
  • Some of the best opening lines can be found two or three paragraphs in. The first line of a novel has to grab attention. We don't need to read the first page and find ourselves in the middle of a fight scene, but you can't afford to have a lackluster opening. There were several examples where the perfect first line - either witty, scary, or strange - was buried under paragraphs of exposition.
All in all, great first day. I'm looking forward to what I'll learn and who I'll meet this weekend!

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