Crafting the Strongest Start - Spring 2015

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Crafting the Strongest Start - Spring 2015

Start: Mar 23, 2015

End: May 17, 2015

Language: English

Price: $225.00

Writing Members receive a 10% discount.

Crafting the Strongest Start - Spring 2015


Anita Mumm

Crafting the Strongest Start - Spring 2015

Instructor: Anita Mumm

This Class has ended. Find a list of active classes here.

Enrollment Open for March 23, 2015 Class Start. 

Strong Start: How to Hook an Agent—or Any Reader—with Your Opening Pages

Course Description:

What does it take to capture readers’ attention when they pick up your book? What do agents look for as they wade through the slush pile? 

Your opening pages are arguably the most important part of your novel. In this class, you will learn to recognize the strengths in your work and develop the areas that need attention. Topics covered will include: creating engaging characters and settings, using a compelling inciting incident, infusing your story with the right amount of tension, increasing the fluency of your prose, and more.

This class is designed for:

This class is for writers who have a completed fiction manuscript and are preparing to submit it to agents, or for those who are in the early stages of their novel and want to start with a strong framework (note, however, that in all cases the opening pages need to be proofread and reasonably polished). It is also useful for authors who plan to self-publish and want to make sure their opening chapters have what it takes to grab and hold reader interest. Participants will have a chance to comment on their classmates’ work and ask the instructor questions throughout the course. The instructor will give feedback on each submission, based on the topics covered that week.

Class pre-requisites:

  • Moderate to advanced writing abilities.
  • A partially finished or finished manuscript.

In this class, you will learn how to:

  • Strengthen the characters, setting, voice, and tension in your opening chapters
  • Avoid common mistakes that make agents stop reading your manuscript
  • Identify the inciting incident in your story and gauge whether it is compelling enough
  • Polish your writing on the paragraph and sentence levels to improve fluency

By the end of the class, you will have:

  • Insider knowledge of the publishing industry—what agents and publishers want
  • The tools to look at your own opening chapters with fresh eyes 
  • Experience giving meaningful critiques of others’ work
  • Detailed feedback on your writing from your classmates and from Anita.
  • A "final thoughts" critique provided by Anita at the end of the class.

Class Structure:

The class will be conducted within TheNextBigWriter's advanced workshopping and class system. Writers will share the class with their fellow members and the instructor for a truly virtual and interactive learning experience. 

The class will consist of four lessons provided on a bi-weekly basis. The instructor will post related exercises and discussions in the non-assignment weeks.  Participants will be able to work at their own pace for each lesson over the eight week period. 

Weeks 1-2

Lesson 1: What Agents Want

This lesson will focus on some essential Dos and Don’ts for hooking an agent with your sample chapters. The instructor will cover the following topics, based on her experience of reading thousands of slush pile submissions at a top literary agency:

  • An overview of the key elements of writing craft that your opening pages MUST contain
  • Proven ways to grab an agent’s attention and get a full manuscript request
  • Five common pitfalls that make an agent stop reading

*During the first week of class, participants will post the first 2500 words (about 10 pages) of their work-in-progress for a targeted critique by the instructor and classmates, based on the topics covered in the lesson.

Weeks 3-4

Lesson 2: The Basics: Characters, Setting, and Voice

This week’s lesson zooms in on three of the elements that must be present in your opening pages. First, the main character(s) have to immediately grab the reader’s interest, either because they are likable, or at the very least, engaging. Second, you must establish the setting so that the reader feels physically grounded and can then concentrate on the events of the story itself. Third, the writing must have that most elusive of qualities: a strong voice. The lesson will focus on how to clarify and strengthen each of these elements and how to avoid the generic/cliché.

*Participants post the second 2500-word section of their novel for critique.

Weeks 5-6

Lesson 3: Establishing the Inciting Incident, Conflict, and Tension

Within the first few chapters of every great novel is an inciting incident—the event that will set in motion all subsequent action (the story arc). In this lesson, we will look at examples from successful novels. Then we will work on identifying your inciting incident and gauging whether it is “big” enough to ignite reader interest and fuel an entire story.

Once you have hooked your readers, the trick is of course to maintain their interest. For this, the writer’s number one tool is tension, and it should be present from the very first page. We will look at examples of how to create tension, and also at common pitfalls that are sure to make tension levels plummet, for example: too much backstory or setup information, an imbalance of telling versus showing, or too much musing or psychoanalysis by the characters.

*Participants post the third 2500-word section of their novel for critique.

Weeks 7-8

Lesson 4: The Nitty Gritty—Polishing Your Writing on the Paragraph and Sentence Level

One of the top reasons an agent or general reader puts down a manuscript is that “the writing just doesn’t flow.” But what does that mean? This week’s lesson will look at the mechanics of good prose, focusing on the most common errors the instructor has encountered during her work in the publishing industry (wordiness, redundancy, incorrect register, and more), with techniques for identifying and fixing them.

The lesson will close with advice for your next steps:

  • How to apply the principles you’ve learned to the rest of your manuscript
  • Resources to help you continue to improve your craft

*Students post the fourth 2500-word section of their novel for critique. In this final round of critiquing, the instructor will include a “big picture” overview of the partial manuscript’s strengths and areas for improvement.


Class Start Date: March 23, 2015

Class End Date: May 17, 2015

The class will consist of four lessons provided on a bi-weekly basis starting on March 23, 2015. Related assignments and discussions will occur in the non-assignment weeks.  Participants will be able to work at their own pace over the eight week period.

Class cost and signup:

The cost of the class is $250 with a 10% discount to Premium Members of TheNextBigWriter.

About the Instructor

Anita Mumm is a freelance novel editor and creative writing instructor based in Denver, Colorado. Before starting Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services, she worked in submissions at Nelson Literary Agency, where a few of her slush pile finds were NYTbestseller The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough (Del Rey), international bestseller The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf (Walker Books), and Broken Like This by Monica Trasandes (Thomas Dunne). She also gained international perspective as NLA’s foreign rights specialist, coordinating translation deals for the agency’s authors in the Asian market.


To Enroll in the Class:

Please click the "Register for the Class" button to signup. 

Questions about the class can also be sent to class (at) Thank you.

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