Fellow literary agent (and fellow geek) Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Literary Management had a fascinating post up the other day on What Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse can teach novelists about hooking readers.I’m just going to paraphrase here, so do check out the whole thing, and then come back.
Back? Ok, so what Colleen is saying is that Joss Whedon hooked a network and an audience, many of whom were already primed to love his work, with a high concept idea. And then he took SIX HOURS of television (Colleen says 7, but I think episode 6, Man On The Street, was the turning point) to get to his point. And I may be one of the BIGGEST Whedon fans out there (I have the t-shirt), but even I was getting worried it wasn’t going to get better.
And then it did. Phew!
But Colleen’s point, and mine, is that as aspiring writers, without the guaranteed fan base of a Joss Whedon, or a Nora Roberts or a Stephen King or a Meg Cabot or or or… you guys don’t have 6 hours, or about 288 pages of teleplay. You don’t have 60 pages, or 6 chapters, even. You have to have both the hook and the immediate draw to keep us reading past the first three pages and beyond.
If Dollhouse were a novel from an unknown author, and Stranger Joss sent me a query setting up a brilliant concept and then said, “But look, the first five chapters are just set-up — the real action starts in chapter 6.” Then I would probably reply, “Then start with chapter 6. Make that your opening. Otherwise, no thanks.”
And I might kick myself later, but I could look back in my query file and see that the beginning was slow, and maybe something was going to happen, but not fast enough to keep me from moving on to the next great possibility.
The lesson in all this? Until you’re Joss Whedon (and/or can get Tahmoh Penikett, shirtless, to deliver your manuscript to me himself), make sure those opening pages and chapters are the best they can be. They may be your only shot.