08 June 2006

Agent Kristin's top ten

Agent Kristin, “a very nice literary agent,” shares the top ten things she’d rather not see in the opening chapters of manuscripts. Many of these prohibitions are peculiar to fantasy novels--unless authors of, say, contemporary realistic fiction start their stories off with “Characters inexplicably getting sucked into a portal” or “A person gathering herbs in the forest.”

But maybe I speak too soon.

“Our relationship,” I say, starting to unpack the groceries.

“What about it?” We have lived together long enough that I can sense the wariness that she would deny if I were to ask.

“Nothing,” I say. I slam the baguette into the steel bread box.

“No, really. What? Why does every serious conversation have to start out like this?”

“Start out like what?” I say, because I panic and can’t think of anything better. I reach back into the paper grocery sack, making as much noise as I can.

“Start out like--"


I turn. She has vanished, truly vanished, into another world. I am alone in the cramped apartment kitchen, holding a clear bag of freshly gathered herbs.

Some of Agent Kristin’s warnings are more general, such as “I have yet to see a well-done prologue in sample pages I’ve received.” There she echoes the advice of Elmore Leonard, whose own top-ten advice list says, “Avoid prologues.”

Have I mentioned that one of my current writing projects has a prologue? I may decide to relabel it.

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