Reader Question: Flaming Corpses

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 06 2007

Borrowing a colloquialism from Miss Snark, do you (or your slush-pile reading assistants) tend to look for “flaming corpses on page one”?

Do you expect first novel writers to get right to the conflict?

Would it be fair to say that these are the query sample pages to which you extend invitations to a partial?

My apologies to Miss Snark. Although I’ve read her blog I’m not a regular enough reader to know for sure what a “flaming corpse” is. So I don’t think I look for them. What I do look for is a reason an editor would reject your book because, honestly, that’s what most editors look for. They have a huge inventory, and while every editor loves buying new books and is always looking for new things to buy, she’s also looking for a reason to clean out her office and reject something. Therefore, I’m also looking for that reason. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more gratifying than reading a book and not finding a reason to reject it anywhere.

I don’t expect anyone to get to the conflict right away. I do expect something to happen, though, and I expect that something to move the story forward. So, I guess I do expect a little conflict.

And I apologize again, but I’m not sure what you mean by “are the query sample pages to which you extend invitations to a partial?”


4 responses to “Reader Question: Flaming Corpses”

  1. Miss Snark seems to like her euphemisms. You got the general gist of a ‘flaming corpse’, I think. It’s just some event in the first few pages that makes you want to read more – a dead body, something on fire… Conflict.

    Of course, if you’ve actually got a dead body that’s also on fire, it’s even better. (Or so the idea goes.)

  2. A very reassuring answer. I try to make the tension start high and rachet higher and higher, but I do appreciate not feeling like I have to start in the middle of the story.

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    it’s a turn-off as a reader to have to play catch up or feel like you started in the middle of the story with no set-up.

  4. In my search for an agent for my debut novel, this has been something that I have definitely had to contend with. I don’t get the impression that there has to be a story climax on page 1, but I do get the feeling that the reader has to immediately have some sense that the story is going somewhere interesting. This is, of course, what Jessica said.

    What I find more interesting from this post is the fact that Jessica is actively looking for reasons to reject an ms. Yikes! I had never thought of it quite that way, before. I guess that just goes to illustrate the level of competition that now exists in the land of publishing: if you want to make it through the door with your first book, looks like it had better be darn near perfect…


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