The first ten pages

August 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm (Writing Ranting)


Soon I’ll be leaving on an epic voyage to two writing conferences – the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and the CYA Later, Alligator Conference in Brisbane (CYA stands for Children and Young Adult). I’ll be connecting directly with Publishers C and I in Melbourne, plus attending the launch party of Going Down Swinging magazine’s 30th issue – an issue which I’m in.

At the CYA con I’ve paid for a face-to-face pitch with Publisher J, who will be reading the first ten pages and synopsis before we meet.

Which means it’s editing time, hurrah!

It’s great when a lot rides on just ten pages, because it means I can totally obsess over every plot point, paragraph, and word.

I’ll be sending “The Monster Apprentice” even though it’s still at Publisher B (everyone will be informed, and I’ll probably put off submitting the full book until Publisher B replies).

I just wandered down to the “modern C/YA” section of our books and picked the best four in the right age group so I can pick apart exactly how true geniuses hook young readers.

Here’s the books and some little samples – these are all G-rated, and HIGHLY recommended for your ten-year old (or 8 or 12 or whatever).

In no particular order:

“Dragonkeeper” by Aussie Carole Wilkinson (who I’ll be listening to at Melbourne)

“A bamboo bowl flew threw the air, aimed at the slave girl’s head. She ducked out of the way. . .”

Action and sympathy, plus the bamboo detail adds to the setting.

“Samurai Kids: White Crane” by Aussie Sandy Fussell


I scissor kick high as I can and land on my right foot. I haven’t got another one. My name is Niya Moto and I’m the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. Usually I miss my foot and land on my backside. Or flat on my face in the dirt.

I’m not good at exercises, but I’m great at standing on one leg. . .”

Action and sympathy again, plus some slapstick humour/sympathy, and humour about his pain, which makes us like him.

“Larklight” by Philip Reeve

“Later, while I was facing the Potter Moth, or fleeing for my life from the First Ones, or helping man a cannon aboard Jack Havock’s brig Sophronia, I would often think back to the way my life used to be, and to that last afternoon at Larklight, before all our misfortunes began.”

Full of mysterious promises (and sympathy) to come.

“Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer

“Ho Chi Minh City in the summer. Sweltering by anyone’s standards. Needless to say, Artemis Fowl would not have been willing to put up with such discomfort if something extremely important had not been at stake. Important to the plan.”

Sensory setting details, and mysterious promises. And characterisation (interestingly NOT sympathetic).

So the best things to find in the opening paragraph/s are: action, sympathy, humour, and a clear goal (even if it’s not explicitly stated).

Here’s mine at the moment:

I awoke from a dead sleep. My bedroom was pitch black and silent, but my heart was racing. Then the sound came again – the sound of a man shouting at the top of his voice. It came from my front door. 

Just action so far – but there’s setting/sensory detail, sympathy, characterisation (with mild humour), and a goal (to find out what’s going on) within the page. I’ll make sure I don’t lose any of those things as I edit.

I’m going to pause and read the first ten pages of each, and give you a quick synopsis and analysis.


The slave girl is mistreated by her master. She feeds farm animals and two very old, dirty dragons that she rather dislikes. She scrounges and steals her dinner, then sneaks into the deserted palace to explore.

There’s a lot of setting detail, and a lot of reasons to feel sympathy for the girl. The dragons’ pathetic state is unique (and thus interesting), as is the girl’s dislike of them.

“Samurai Kids: White Crane”

Niya continues to train while filling in details of his past and how he came to train at the Cockroach school (all the other kids are unusual too – blind, albino, etc). Their teacher announces they’ll be competing in the Samurai Games and the kids all react unenthusiastically since they lost badly on previous years, and were teased. The teacher tells them a story about how mighty cockroaches are.

There’s a lot of humour and really nicely done characterisation. It’s good to know already exactly what the main plot is so early on.


Art and his trying-to-be-ladylike sister Myrtle live in a lonely and ramshackle space house with their absent-minded father (their mother died on a voyage). They receive a delivery of the mail via spaceship.

This is very, very funny in almost every line. It’s also a wonderfully detailed and fun setting. Plus there’s delicately-written sympathy.

“Artemis Fowl”

Artemis, an unpleasant but terrifyingly intelligent son of a criminal mastermind, and his deadly (and very respectful) bodyguard, use technology, intelligence and threats to find a fairy, with whom they make a deal to see her Book.

Artemis may be unpleasant, but he is SO cool (there’s sympathy later). As is the combination of high-tech modern stuff and the fairy plot. There’s a lot of setting detail, and very good characterisation – all done through their words and actions. The best part is the originality.

In my own first ten pages, Dance eavesdrops on a conversation between her father (the village Elder of their isolated and unprotected island) and the village watchman, who has seen pirates approaching. She is determined to get caught up in the action, and is nominated as a runner to wake the village. She takes a dangerous shortcut over a rooftop populated with sky cows.

I want excitement and emotional involvement, so I’ll focus on that.


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