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Manuscript question for contest/critque

Started by JotAndTitle, January 08, 2024, 01:30 PM

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So I'm new here, and did some poking around, but I can't seem to find my exact circumstance to know what the right call is.

There is a conference in Iowa this April and at the time of registration, this Friday, there are options for a Manuscript contest/Critique. 5 pages long.

I have an issue, I have a prologue for my YA novel that (in Word) is 3 pages. I have heard the gamut for and against prologues, but what makes mine slightly unique is that its the storyteller getting permission/hired to tell his story of the MCs in restaurant of sorts.

Nothing mind-blowing there, but he, in his own way, is another main character. Throughout the novel the crowd interrupts him constantly, and he has to interact with them outside of the story he is telling, or to tell another part to give the listeners understanding of what is going on with the MCs. (Think like the grandpa from Princess Bride).

I feel like getting a critique or entering a contest with only 5 pages is going to confuse or lose people.

So the questions:
1) For things like a critique or contest can you start in the middle or is it always the first X amount of pages?

2) When they say pages, they mean Word pages correct?

3) In general how do you help with submissions when there are odd circumstances that may get you looked over because of nontraditional formatting/structure?

4) Any general tips you would throw at a amateur such as myself when it comes to this type of thing?

Thank you ahead of time,

David Wright

1) Never start in the middle. Start at the start, or start at the start of Chapter 1.

2) Yes.

3) The Princess Bridie now has a prologue in front of the prologue in front of the grandpa scene :)
But it's the main story you are selling. I'd focus on that when I'm getting feedback.

I do use prologues myself -- usually quite short -- but when I do five pages I never send it. Because the truth of it is, chapter 1 has to start as strong as it can regardless of whether a prologue exists. If it doesn't make sense within it's own context then perhaps the prologue is really the first chapter -- or it needs work.


Ryan, if you think five pages of your manuscript is not enough for someone to understand what you are doing, and thus give you useful feedback, then this might not be a good opportunity for you. Look for one where you can submit a larger chunk of a manuscript.

Or, better, look for a workshop somewhere like the Highlights Foundation. And, of course, if you aren't in a critique group already, that's another good way to get feedback.

Good luck!
Harold Underdown

The Purple Crayon, a children's book editor's site:


For a contest, while you might feel the first 5 pages might confuse people, to be entirely honest, an editor or agent isn't going to read past the first page or two if they're confused so they aren't going to read far enough to get their confusion cleared up. That would indicate to me you should rethink things. Maybe the prologue needs to be removed and woven in after a couple of pages?

On the other hand, for a critique, you'd get feedback on these first five pages which might help you to polish and revise them to avoid confusion in subsequent drafts, so perhaps that is just what you need.

Contests work best for highly polished material in the best possible shape--manuscripts you're confident about and ready to submit. Critiques are for getting feedback on works-in-progress with the goal of revising to get the material in better shape.
Rebecca Langston-George

Debbie Vilardi

Why does the person telling the story need permission? Make sure that part of your work serves a purpose and doesn't just interrupt the main story.

If an adult reading will be confused, a child will be too and they will put the book down. You'll need to find a way to make the prologue work without confusing the reader at any point while making sure it matters to the overall story and is necessary as a prologue. It's a tall order. A critique may very well help you get there. It gives you the chance to speak with an industry professional about your vision as well as have them read.
Twitter: @dvilardi1


Thank you all for the quick feedback.

Answering a few questions and comment on a comment, in no particular order:

Q:Why does the storyteller need permission?
A:In the world that I created has small pockets of society that are fractured and far apart. He is just a travelling merchant looking to tell a story for food and shelter. Its not like the place he burst into was expecting him, and he isn't exactly wanted at first.

Q:Why not start with a more MC focused prologue and just make the storyteller the first chapter?
A:I really like this idea, it may give more "umph", grasp the reader... but then has the potential to confuse them when jumping back to the storyteller. His introduction would have to be retooled. hmmm. I gotta chew on that.

Q:If I think its going to be confusing then maybe it will be confusing to the readers, especially the children.
A: Confused may be a strong, and poor, word choice on my part. What I mean to say is there is no resolution or full direction after 5 pages. There is only build up, some jokes, maybe a little foreboding, but nothing like "wow I know who these characters are and what there motivations are." (Minus the storyteller, his motivation is food and shelter)

Statement: The Princess Bride now has a prologue in front of the prologue in front of the grandpa scene
A: I most find the pro-prologue, does it have an epi-epilogue too?

I really do appreciate all the thoughts. Both critical and encouraging.



I used to think that the first pages thing was about the story. And yes, it does let the reader see if something is going to happen soon, or if the first five pages are just about someone drinking tea and pondering a hot bath. (Ie, IS there a story here?) But I have come to feel that the main reason is to get an idea of the writing itself. Is this a writing style that I can feel confident in? Can I stand to read 300 pages of this voice? Even if it's technically well done--is this the kind of mood I'm in? Do I like this kind of attitude/worldview/style?

As a reader, when I hear about the plotline of a book that sounds interesting, I always check out the opening pages, in person or online, to see if the way it's handled is something I'm in the mood for. When the writing is poor...I put it back on the shelf or close the file. But when the writing itself pulls me in, I keep reading. I suspect that is more the purpose here. And starting from the beginning means letting the reader know that you don't just do random scenes, but can connect them up into something that hopefully will be a strong narrative.

Often, we as writers stress about getting the reader far enough in to see that this book is different and exciting and the good stuff happens in Chapter 5! But normally readers start on page 1, and they'll never get to chapter 5 if they don't like the writing/way the story starts to unfold from page 1. So I think maybe we don't have to stress so much about that aspect of things. Just make sure the writing is up to scratch from the very beginning.

Barbara Etlin

I suggest skipping the prologue and starting with Chapter One, in media res. The storyteller isn't the protagonist, right? Start by introducing the protagonist talking to the storyteller, without an explanation of the storyteller's motivation. The reader will be able to figure it out eventually from the context.

Debbie Vilardi

I misunderstood when I first read this. I thought the character needed permission from the other character to tell the first character's story not a random story.

There are quite a few old sci-fi short stories that appear to take place in the same bar, The White Hart. Each starts with a bar scene and then has a character tell his tale. There are other books with connected bar stories like this too. These may be the mentor texts you need to carry this off.
Twitter: @dvilardi1

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