The Page 117 Rule

Over many years of reading advice about editing and making submissions, I’ve come across mysterious references to the Page 117 Rule.

We’re told to have a strong opening to our story, one that hooks the reader making them want to find out what happens next. When querying, we’re often instructed to send the first three chapters or first 10,000 words. Noah Lukeman wrote The First Five Pages explaining how to stay out of the rejection pile.

One of the dangers of writers obsessing about the first few pages is that they polish them too much, neglecting the rest of the manuscript which slumps into tedious dross in Chapter 4.

There were a couple of posts that mentioned Page 117 in my Quora feed this morning.

Personally speaking, I’ve never understood the importance placed on a book’s beginning. I understand that the same part of a manuscript needs to be chosen as an industry standard for assessing writing, but I’ve never chosen to read a book because of a killer opening. Nor have I rejected a novel if it starts slowly, giving it at least until Page 50 to decide if I want to read on. The only time I’ll dip into the middle of a story while standing in the library, is if I’m trying to recall if I’ve read it before, especially when it’s part of a series. It’s Amazon that has driven up the importance of the opening, with their Look Inside feature.

All the same, the Page 117 Rule might have some worth. I tried it on my five Cornish Detective novels—curious to see if the story had picked up the pace by this point—also looking for any similarities in mood. I found that my Page 117s all described how the investigations were progressing, with three of the stories featuring my protagonist detective interviewing the murder suspect.

This was entirely unplanned and I’m not sure what it means about how unknowingly I pace a plot. 

What do you think of the Page 117 Rule?

How do you choose a book to read?

I tend to go by reviews in newspapers and online, and if I’ve read the author before. Cover blurb telling me about the story has a minor effect.

How does your Page 117 look?

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