"Our Story Begins…": On First Chapters and PartialsPosted: November 23, 2011
by Cathy Day
For most of the semester, I’ve been pushing you to KEEP MOVING FORWARD, no matter what. Horizontal writing, not vertical. No revision. Keep sketching. Keep going. But yesterday, I had to remind you that–for the final–you also have to turn in a solid first chapter or two or three for me to assess.
- The partial. A polished, ready-to-go-to-an-editor excerpt, 25-50 pages. This is vertical writing, polished, edited, as perfect as you can make it. It will probably change by the time you finish your novel, but for now, it’s good to have something you can actually show people.
- Final draft of your storyboard or outline/synopsis Please also include a short explanation of how far into the book you are, how far you still need to go, etc.
- The rough draft you have drafted this term. This is horizontal writing, one document that contains the 2,250+ words you produced each week + anything you produced over and above that amount. The person with the most number of words/pages wins a prize!
Things that make people stop reading when they start a novel
So when people ask you, “What’s your book about?” you have something to show them. These might be friends and family, or, in my case, it’s an employer or someone willing to give you money so you can keep writing. I’ve been working on my novel for a few years, and I don’t yet have a complete first draft that’s ready for human eyes, but based on a polished partial, I’ve gotten an agent, a fellowship, and a job. It’s deeply comforting to know that, even though you’re deep in the murk of a work in progress, that there’s something “done.” I wrote more about this here.
How do I begin?
Here’s a blog post that illustrates thirteen different types of novel openings.
Why 50 pages?
You need to pretend that I am not your teacher, I am an agent. You’ve queried me, and I have written back and asked for 1.) a synopsis of the whole book, and 2.) a partial, which might mean:
- the first 50 pages
- the first 1, 2, or 3 chapters
- a combination of the two.
My chapters are very short, like 5 pages a piece. Do I send only 15 pages then?
No, they expect something around 50 pages. That’s what’s expected.
My chapter 3 goes to page 55. Do I just stop at p. 50?
Absolutely not. You want your partial to stop at a chapter break. So go to p. 55.
My chapter 3 goes to page 61. Do you send 61 pages instead of 50?
No. Go back in and trim a few pages until you get it down to about 55 pages.
Oh, yes you most certainly can.
Why are you giving us the option to turn in 25 pages if the standard is 50?
Two reasons: Because I know that none of you are actually done yet (and in real life, you would never begin this process until you had a complete manuscript ready to go), and because I want you to still be writing, moving forward, getting the whole first draft DONE.
Good luck! Can’t wait to read your partials!