Agents Tell How To Start a Story Right

Les Edgerton, an author and pretty cool guy, talked to a lot of literary agents when writing his book Hooked, which is all about grabbing readers on page one and never letting them go.  Les has shared some of the agent advice below for us!

“Strong beginnings start in the middle of the story.  You can fill in backstory later.  I like to see the protagonist in action at the start so that I get a feel for who the character is right off the bat.  We often get submissions with cover letters that begin: ‘I know you asked for the first 50 pages, but the story really gets going on page 57, so I included more.’  If the story really gets going at 57, you probably need to cut the first 56.”

Mike Farris, Farris Literary Agency

“Action. Danger. Conflict. Crisis. Consider this from Jeff Somers’s The Electric Church: ‘You fucked up, Mr. Cates.’  Do we know who Mr. Cates is?  No. Do we know what he looks like or where he is?  No, but we will. What we know now is that he’s in trouble. Of course I want to read on.”

Janet Reid, New Leaf Literary

“Never open with scenery!  Novels are about people and the human condition.  That is why we read them.  Yet writer after writer starts off with descriptions of cities, towns, streets, forests, mountains, oceans, etc.  Of course I know why.  They’ve learned how to describe landscapes in language that seems literary, and hope we’ll be impressed. We are not. We are looking for life.
“Also, never open with the villain if you’re doing mysteries, thrillers, suspense, horror, science fiction, or fantasy genres.  Nothing is more important to us than the voice of the protagonist.  That is what drives a novel.  So give us the protagonist up front.  And, yes, I know many best-selling authors open with the villain doing his ghastly deed.  Once you’re a bestseller, you can do pretty much whatever you want until readers stop buying your books.  The other thing is: These authors are usually writing a series, so the reader is already acquainted with the protagonist.  You [a new writer] don’t have any of this going for you.”

Jodie Rhodes, Jodie Rhodes Literary Agency

“A story must begin with an immediate hook.  Go to some of the classics to see how to begin, namely, A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens; Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald; Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen; Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.  That first sentence and paragraph immediately draws one into the story and makes it impossible for the reader not to read on.”

Julie Castiglia, Castiglia Literary Agency

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3 thoughts on “Agents Tell How To Start a Story Right

  1. Les Edgerton

    Hey Chuck,
    Thanks so much for the props! Much appreciated! I just hope writers get good use out of the book. I root for my "fraternity" of writers–the coolest people in the world and hope everyone gets published–there’s room for all of us on the shelves.

    Heading down to Erlanger tomorrow. If you’re in town, Jason and I and a few others will probably head to Covington one night for adult beverages–can you come out and play?

    Blue skies,

  2. Amber Argyle-Smith

    I’ve noticed that almost all new writers make these mistakes. I certainly did.
    I’m not sure about never using a prologue. I’ve seen them done very well (The Hollow Kingdom comes to mind), but I agree it’s a trick best used by a seasoned writer.

    Thanks for all the advice,

  3. Sherry

    This is some really awsome advice and just the stuff I had on my mind. Recentley I have started revising one of my MG novels and relized that my start was not as captivating as I would like. So I have grabed a few books in my genre (all book ones) and now I am going to see how thier hooks grabbed me and pulled me in.

    Thanks for the advice and I am so going to buy "Hooked"


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