by Ace Antonio Hall
1) State the name of the protagonist
Many have said otherwise, stating that it is boring and not creative, however, I have found that if you're trying to get past the slush pile, there is nothing more irritating to the agent or publisher reading your manuscript as to not knowing who the protagonist is, and much worse, not knowing if it is a male or female.
2) Introduce all the main characters (or make a reference to them) by pages 6-10.
3) State the age of the protagonist. (Especially, if you are writing YA. Publishers and Agents want to know right away the age group of the target audience. For YA, it is 12-18)
4) Reveal the ghosts of protagonist. What pains the character? This information is not only good to allow the reader to empathize with the character but also allows the reader to relate to the character's pains. Needless to say, the pain must be an emotional one that most people in your target audience as dealt with: be careful not to be cliche'. Remember: The thought process that many publishers and producers have is, "Show me something I've seen before, but differently." Also, you must insert, masterfully (or as best as you can), the internal/external conflict of the character, thus showing the beginnings of the arc, which sets up the arcs path and destination.
Before page ten, we should know some of the demons that plague the protagonist, and show things that makes the character likable. Unless you want you protagonist to be an unlikable character, which is probably not the best idea (unless she is an anti-hero,even then, be cautious), writing an action(s) which make the reader, in this case, the Publisher or Agent, like the character.
Note how long this point is--that's because I feel it is Very Important!
5) Setting. The setting is more than the place, it is the environment, the weather, time of day, and date. You can barely get through the first paragraph of any good novel and not know if it is hot or cloudy, cold, or windy.
The weather, as well as your descriptive word choices, will help set the tone whether you want the mood to be dark, or sarcastic, colorful, humorous, or Gothic.
The time of day is simply letting the reader know if it is day, or night, morning, or midnight. The date can be literal: On October 29th, 2008, I helped my mother kill her abuser; dad. Or it can be more ambiguous: Long, long ago, in a world where zombies were as common as the cold, I'd finally learned how to throw a curve ball.
6) Inciting incident/Call to Action. Sometimes, these are two different occurrences, many times, they are the same. In either case, this is where your plot truly begins, letting the Agent or Publisher know what your story is about. Wait until after page ten to do this, and it is highly plausible that your story will not catch their attention.
Also, within the first ten pages:
Use the 5 senses, thematic elements (many first time authors simply have the character state the theme), mold the tone, and have the opening images set up the mirror images of what the character will have to walk into upon his/her adventure--the normal world before they enter the STRANGE NEW WORLD.
If it is a Science Fiction story, technology must be introduced immediately. If the character is a bad-ass, show the reader why within the first six pages, but also remember that it is so important to integrate the ghosts, and characteristics that the reader can relate to, as well, or you chance making the reader not care about your numero uno character. Not good.
Lastly, if the character is employed, either use an immediate reference to what their job is, or allow the reader, in this case, the Agent or the Publisher, see the protagonist in their workplace immediately. For example, a witch bewitching, a vampire feeding, a teacher instructing a class, an agent on a mission, an athlete in a competition, etc.
If this has been helpful to you, please let me know, in a testimony of sort, as it relates to your writing.
Ace Antonio Hall is the author of the zombie novel, The Confessions of Sylva Slasher, from Montag Press. Now available on Amazon.com.