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Getting Some Action

Question of the day: What advice do you give, when you want to capture your audience immediately with your story?
I have been having much trouble capturing my readers with my first 6000 words or so. The problem is, my story builds to the climax as it goes, so I cannot include a sudden issue in the beginning of the story.

I'm glad that you asked this question because I think this is a fundamental mistake that so many aspiring writers make: they don't get to the action soon enough. I know of what I speak: when I wrote my debut (before I had an agent), I started waaaaaaaay before I needed to. I wrote pages upon pages of backstory, of moments leading up to the important stuff, of character development, etc, etc, etc. And then, when I signed with my agent (at the time), she said:

"Well, that's great, but you don't need the first 99 pages."

Yup. I cut 99 pages. The book, as you see it now, starts on the 99th page of my original manuscript. Guess what? It turns out that by throwing my character right into the heart of the action (in this case, after she's been diagnosed with cancer), readers learn everything they need to about who she is and where she is in her life. You can impart this to readers with small flashbacks, with quick ruminations on the situations leading up to that moment, with introducing her/your character right at eye of her perfect storm.

This is what cutting 99 pages taught me. Don't offer up exposition when you can offer up action. Don't offer up back story when you can explain everything you need to know about a character with her CURRENT action. You don't need to explain where she works, how she met her boyfriend, etc, etc, etc. You can SHOW readers all of this wherever you pick up on your first page. Similarly, with Time of My Life, I suppose I could have written many and various scenes about how my protagonist's marriage is coming undone. But why? Why bore the reader? Why not pick up right when she is ALREADY miserable? Isn't that much more interesting and compelling? I think so. Show readers her problems and then take them on the journey of fixing them.

So that's my advice. Who else wants to share how they get readers right into the action from the get-go?

Reader Comments (1)

What took me awhile to understand is that EVERY scene needs to have conflict. You may be building up to a big climax, but every chapter/every scene needs to have a character with a conflict. THat doesn't mean it has to be a fight or a plane falling from the sky, but some sort of tension. That tension should pull them into the next scene or raise a question the reader wants to see answered later etc.

Pick a few books similar in tone to what you're trying to write and look at how that author handles the opening.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEileen
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