Should You Cut the First Three Pages?

October 29, 2008 § 2 Comments

    According to Steve Almond in the latest Writer’s Digest, one of the most famous pieces of literary advice comes from Chekov, who urges writers to throw out their first three pages if:

1) Your protagonist is alone for the pages.

2) He’s in bed or in a bathtub.

3) He’s imbued with an indeterminate sense of malaise.

4) The “action” is your protagonist thinking while carrying out activities that demonstrate his malaise.

Hmmm. Now I see why I stop reading so many stories so quickly.

His other teaching  point comes from writer Jim Shepard, who shares that the pace of stories come from revelation. When the reader is learning, the story rolls along. When he stops, it dies.

Words to the wise.

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§ 2 Responses to Should You Cut the First Three Pages?

  • Pamela Villars says:

    Thanks, Patrick.

    Another part of the article says that the pointless ruminations are why so many writing teachers send back stories with the fourth page marked ‘start here’.

    As a new writer (and as a human being), I rebel against rules, but also notice that when I follow them, my work is more interesting, so I have a kind of love-hate thing going there.

    I completely agree with your learn ’em and break ’em philosophy.

    Pamela

  • Patrick Nathan says:

    It’s interesting to see it said so directly, because the advice by Chekov is quite sound. Looking back on it, a great deal of my more sophomoric stories involved a ruminating or melancholic narrator in the first few pages–a sort of pointless introduction to the story that really deflates its punch.

    It’s something I eventually grew out of. These rules are strange to me. I often think that they’re made to be broken, but I also can’t help but agree with their necessity, especially when related to new writers. I think it’s the same with all structures of creative learning, really–you have to learn the rules first, follow them, master them, and break them.

    Thanks for the read. (And Jim Shepard is the man–the author of my favorite short story, in fact: “Love and Hydrogen”)

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