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Prime Real Estate

I’m not a real estate agent, but I do know there are things that real estate agents do to sell a house: they play up the important features. Their other favorite thing to talk about, if it’s good, is the neighborhood and the location of the property. After all, isn’t it all about location, location, location? Well, these considerations are applicable to novel craft, because once you know the important information features and the prime locations for material in your story, you can play around and really present your reader with important information, in a way that seems important, and in places that will make it seem even more important. Let me explain…

The way you present information impacts the way a reader interprets its importance. For example, if a character goes on and on about the Thanksgiving turkey, describing its crisp brown skin, succulent aroma, the bedding of rosemary twigs upon which it rests, the legs tied together with twine, etc., and completely glosses over the conversation that reveals that the character’s parents are getting a divorce, what do you think will be memorable in that scene? The more descriptive (and scene) space you give something, the more characters think and talk about it, the more important it will become in the reader’s mind.

This can work against you — if you’re not aware of this and spend lots of time describing stuff that will not be important as the novel progresses — or for you — if you are aware of this and use this to craft where your reader’s attention goes. In other words, prime real estate in your novel is anything that takes up a lot of space (it’s good and noteworthy to have acreage, you know?). Readers will automatically equate space and words spent talking/thinking about something with its overall value to the book.

The other consideration is location. The prime real estate in any novel is: the first page of the novel, the first paragraph of a new chapter, and the last paragraph of a chapter. These spaces are special and should not be treated like any others in your manuscript. After all, a real estate agent who has a property with panoramic city views, a Central Park West address, or a location with a private beach, goes above and beyond when listing this special location. The ad is glossier, there is a whole album of pictures, the font is more refined, etc. You should lavish care on your entire manuscript, of course, but pay special attention, after you’ve polished everything, to the prime real estate listed above.

Whatever you put on the first page of your manuscript will seem really important to the rest of it. If you start with something that never appears again (and this is where prologues can get hairy) or if you give the reader all description and no character, that is a missed opportunity. The opening paragraphs of subsequent chapters are your chance to ground the reader in what has just happened or what will happen for the rest of the chapter (a post on “grounding the reader” later). The end of a chapter has one job and one job only, just like that house with the panoramic city view: sell. You need to give your reader a new detail, a cliffhanger, or just enough tension so that they immediately flip to the next page instead of using the chapter break as a natural resting point and putting the book down.

Most novels that have strong narrative really use the prime real estate as a special opportunity. It’s there to keep the reader informed, to highlight important information or characters, to keep the reader hooked, and to otherwise anchor the structure of the novel. Make sure you’re paying special attention to the prime real estate you’re working with, just like a real estate agent would.

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  1. Lynn Rush’s avatar

    NICE!!! Never thought of it as prime real estate. But you’re so right!!!

    Thanks. Happy Friday.

  2. Kathryn Roberts’s avatar

    Thanks for the reminder. This is what I am working on right now.

  3. creepyquerygirl’s avatar

    Oooh, I hadn’t thought about this in a while! Thanks for the reminder and the great advice. I’ll be paying special attention to those with my ms.

  4. Jessie Mac’s avatar

    You hear it all the time about the first page. But it didn’t occur to me that the first paragraph of a new chapter and last paragraph were important too. It makes total sense. Thanks for reminding me, Mary.

  5. Beth’s avatar

    Helpful thoughts.

  6. Krista V.’s avatar

    Great post. It reminds me of something Donald Maass said in his book THE FIRE IN FICTION. He encouraged writers to really focus on the first and last sentences of sections and chapters and make them really shine, because, like you said, they get a lot of attention.

  7. Olleymae’s avatar

    Great advice, you’re so right. Those are all opportunities to keep selling our story to the readers and keep them engaged. I want to comb through my MS now and make sure I’m using my prime real estate wisely.

  8. Ishta’s avatar

    Great post! I’ve come to realize just how important and difficult to craft the first page can be. You have to hook the reader, but if you drop them too quickly into high-stakes action, the odds that they don’t know the MC well enough to really care what happens are high.

    In writing my YA paranormal WIP, I’ve been paying special attention to first pages. I’ve noticed that an awful lot of books in this category start with prologues that set the tone, then revert to backstory and character development for the beginning of the first chapter. Is this why, and do you think that the tone-setting prologue is good practice?

  9. Tricia Springstubb’s avatar

    You hear so much about opening lines–a nice little jolt to be reminded of chapter endings.

  10. June G.’s avatar

    Nicely put. This is a great way to remember these elements. As usual, thanks Mary.

  11. Cat Woods’s avatar

    Thanks for this great reminder. My last batch of beta readers got frustrated with me when I’d send only three chapters at a time.

    “You can’t leave me hanging. What happened next? Just one more page.”

    That’s when I knew my advertising had paid off!

  12. Heather Kephart’s avatar

    Another awesome post!

    I heart you long time.

  13. Marybk’s avatar

    Love. This. Another slam-dunk/got-to-the-helpul-facts post, Mary. This, IMO, is something to especially watch for during the final edits, where you analyze each chapter to see if it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

  14. Najela’s avatar

    That is so true. It’s always the last paragraphs that carry the tension into the next chapter and the first paragraph of the next chapter just carries the tension or creates new tension in a new character or scene.

  15. Jean’s avatar

    Great analogy. I struggle with those last paragraphs. This will help me to remember to make them cliff0hangers or open doors, I hope.

    Thanks.

    Jean

  16. Carolyn Paul Branch’s avatar

    Thanks! This is something I should known, but don’t always remember. So often my first page is just a warm-up and I end up having to cut and rearrange. You are so helpful to those of us trying to get by on instinct!

  17. Aayla’s avatar

    Very informative article. The question of how much and what type of description to include has been a big one for me as there are so many different ways to address each situation. Your comments make good sense. Thanks!

  18. Joan’s avatar

    Nice reminder not to go off on a descriptive tangent when it’s not really important, but to highlight those moments that are. If the bathroom is small, the focus should be on the huge bathtub and it’s advantages. ;-)

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