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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 50 Page Rule

Oh, great, more rules. I gave a talk to a writer's group a little while ago, and presented them with this idea of the 50 page rule. I could see the eyes roll, as they were still learning to work with rulles regarding tense, and period, and genre, and character development. The last thing they wanted were more rules. Not to worry. As Captain Barbosa explains in the first Pirates of the Carribean movie, the 50 page rule is "...more what you might consider guidelines, anyway." Here are my thoughts in a nutshell. I will admit to being an average reader, and an fairly avid reader of mysteries and the like. I will give any book I start, regardless of the author, 50 pages to capture my attention and make me care about what happens to the characters. I know, it sounds a bit harsh. but please bear in mind that I hiold myself to the same standard. I have started, and pitched in the trash, any number of ideas and stories that I couldn't get up to speed in the first fifty pages.

So here are some things that I look for in the first 50 pages.

1. Introduce the hero, and if appropriate, the antagonist. I like to know who we are dealing with from the start, and in my opinion 50 pages is a good time frame to at least set up the potential conflict between them.

2. Spread out the back story, and please keep it relevant. It is a good idea to develop character by giving a little history, glimpses of personal background and the like. but unless it has something to do with the developing story, I don't much care about the recess playground experiences of the characters. And to be honest, I don't need to read all about it in the first 50 pages unless the story covers a period of years and is an integral part of the narrative.

3. I personally look for the plot to develop quickly. I want to know what the story is all about, where the tension and conflict comes from, and what events are important in the lives of the characters that brought them to this point.

My point is pacing your story to get your readers swept away in it. The best writers in the genre are able to get you to care about the characters and what they are going through within the first fifty pages. From there, if you are at all like me, you get to hang on and truly enjoy the ride.


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  2. There are rules to this madness? Pretty generous with 50 Ron... I'm more 10 with others, and if I can't grab onto my own after 15 or so then its the delete button. Films I go 5 minutes, scripts 8-10 pages.

    1. You know what, Henry, I think 50 pages is about right, and yeah, often I figure it out much sooner than that too. But I like to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.