Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hit the ground running

We talk about this all the time. Get that story moving and do it fast! So the real question now is, "What do we mean by that?"

For many authors, they seem to think we need to jump the reader into the middle of the conflict that will run throughout the story. I am sorry to say, this is probably one of the worst approaches to take. The best analogy to this is that singer that tries to sing the National Anthem and starts too high. Hit "rockets red glare" and windows crack. The key to singing that song is knowing that it will build and you have to start low enough to know that when you get to those darn rockets, you don't kill yourself.

The same holds true with writing. You want to get the reader excited about the story but not dive into the conflict too soon. Doing so will wear the reader out. They were done with the conflict by the end of chapter 3 and you still have 20 more to go. Not going to work.

When starting a story, you want to get us going with something that will want to suck us into the story. This means with movement. You will notice I am not saying action, but movement. In other words, do not start off with a huge back story dump, or something that really is going to confuse the reader. Although I love this man's writing, Michner is a great example of this in Centenial. I was so excited to read that book when it came out. I wanted to follow that family and that town but starting with the geological history of the town? Ugh.

Those opening scenes are great places to let us know about the character and what makes us think he or she is worth following. Go back and watch the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones is so cool and you want to follow this guy.

Oh, and in those opening scenes, avoid the stereotypical approaches. Dream sequences, nightmares, the POV of the serial killer, and in fantasies, the heroine out collecting herbs. Seen it, done it.

You ask, why do this? I am looking at a stack of submissions on my desk that need to be read and answered. If you don't hook me fast, it won't happen.



  1. Good post, Scott. This one seems to always be confusing. If we start with action packed stunts too soon (as so often occurs in movies) then we don't care enough about the character yet. But one can't ramble on about backstory either. It takes a unique balance.


  2. Another great post. Of the agent blogs I read, yours is probably my favorite.