Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Start Strong, Stay Strong - A Bad Beginning Can Break You

We've all heard this before. Someone untrained stands up and starts singing the National Anthem on the wrong note. No, I'm not talking about singing off key, I'm talking about the times when they start out a bit too high. When do they figure it out? On the "rockets red glare" portion of the song. At that point, there is simply no where else to go and they die hitting that note. It's painful.

Stories can do the same thing. If an author starts off at the wrong portion of the story, using the wrong tone or pace, they may be royally screwed when they need to call on that energy or tone and they have used it all up.

I came across this recently with a submission. It was a romantic suspense/thriller and there was really something there for me in the beginning. Hey, I was liking it. The story had some guts to it in the beginning that made me want to read more. It was like a great roller coaster that gets you going from the moment that handle bar comes down bracing you for the ride. But...

The story died. Actually, die isn't the right word. The tension sort of fizzled out, or maybe I should say the author couldn't maintain the right pace and tension. By the time I hit page 100+ that great energy we started with wasn't there. Bummer.

Now the reverse can also happen here. An author may have a great story idea and the tension when we hit the major section of the book could be fantastic. The problem through is that the author just doesn't get us going on it quick enough. Let's go back to the roller coaster analogy again. Starting up California Screaming at Disney's California Adventure with a ride of It's a Small World is not a great beginning. While I love both rides, the energy on the second ride is not getting us going.

Hey, we even saw the same thing with the chick-lit genre. To get the ball rolling, the author threw every shopping and fashion joke at us. Sure it was great, but they had nothing left in the artillery when we hit chapter 5.

The easiest way to fix this is to consider that major element in the story that you are shooting for. Is it a great escape? Is it an ultimate battle between good vs. evil? It doesn't matter. Your job is to figure out what that scene should feel like? Now, back-track. Work backwards to figure out where and when you should start.

I have mentioned this before but go back to your short story diagram. Remember the "rising action" that is what we need. Not a race to the top and maintain a plateau.


1 comment:

  1. Good blog. Someone once told me that writing a novel is like writing a book of short stories, except that each story is connected telling one big story. I found that doing character analysis helped me to find subplots. I even found I really wasn't utilizing one of my side characters to their full potential.