In my work as a coach and consultant, I read manuscripts on a regular basis. Often, I can identify what’s working–or not–within the first 20 pages. Whether you are aiming to sell to a traditional publishing house, or you are going the independent publishing route, your story must hook your reader (agent, editor, or bookstore browser) on page one. Powerful prose is great–as long as you’re using it to tell a story with an engine.
I call that “engine” the story equation, and it represents the cohesion and chemistry of the most important story elements: the story catalyst, the event that hooks the reader; the dilemma (sometimes called the deep-story problem) that will be inseparable from the protagonist’s inner struggles and emotional journey; a fascinating, complex and active protagonist making choices under intensifying pressure, driven to go the distance against the odds, and, finally, surrendering to a new vision of what will be after this journey through the fire of transformation.
When these elements are in place, the story’s emotional logic and meaning will hyper-charge the turning points, set-pieces, and the crisis-climax. The end result will be a story with heart and resonance, a story that moves readers to experience deep emotions that are sometimes unaccessible to them outside the pages of great stories.