Or, The UNDERworked Middles and Endings
I read a historical romance lately that disappointed me and it wasn’t the first time. I call it the 1st 50 pages dilemma. To win contests and catch the attention of literary agents our first 50 pages (or first 3 chapters) better shine. Of course we’re going to polish those pages until every word, every phrase, is perfect.
But what about page 51? Or page 186?
This novel I just started a couple months ago had the most amazing opening I’ve read in a long time. It sparkled. The characters leapt off the page. The dialogue dazzled. I could not get enough. I raved about it to anyone who would listen.
And then around page 50 the writing flatlined. Because the beginning was so, so good I read all the way to page 125, but by that time I was so disheartened I stopped reading. Nothing was happening! Which is unbelievable because the heroine had run away from home and stowed away on a ship destined to run down a notorious pirate. What’s more exciting than that!? But the heroine gets everything she wants. All the crusty sailers have lovely manners. She insults her host, with no repercussions. The mysterious coded message she receives from a pirate is simple enough a child could crack it.
I’m so disappointed I won’t look for any of the author’s other books, let alone finish this one.
And I’ve read too many novels just like it. They start out with a bang, and then they bottom out around chapter 5 and I never finish them.
The lesson I’ve learned is to work that beginning, but don’t set down the red pen after chapter 3. Fine tune every scene with the same enthusiasm and critical eye you give to the opening. Your readers will thank you.