05 October 2011

Start at the Very Beginning

Earlier this evening I picked up my copy of Writers Digest and started to peruse it. An article in the Questions & Quandaries section caught my attention—so I read it. Figured I should since it went to all the trouble to stand out like that. You know?

The article entitled 10 Myth-Busting Answers to 10 FAQs on Grammer, Writing and Publishing (by Brian A. Klems) included ten entries. Number three rang true to me.

3. The Big Bang Theory?
Is it true that the best way to start my novel is with action?
The commonly accepted “rule” that you should begin your novel with action has a flaw—and it's a major one: What good is the action if it isn't grounded in context that's important to the story or draws you to the main character? It's much, much better to start your story with tension, like a character conflict or a character who's not getting what he wants. This gives the reader a reason to feel connected.

I have mixed feelings on this. I guess you can start a story at any point you want—you're writing it after all. I'm not a lover of an overly long scene setting beginning. Too much description, no matter how beautifully written (and some people are really, really good at this), gets dull for me if I don't have a reason to care. The same goes for a narrative beginning. Like a voice over in a movie, it works for a bit, but gets old fast. I don't care about what happened then (although I'm sure it will come in handy later), I want to know what's going on now!

Strangely (or perhaps not) I feel the same way about action. Sure I could start a story with:

Darin dove to the side, the heavy sword biting into his shoulder as he failed to get out of the way. The strike forced him to his knees, and it took everything he had left to bring his own weapon up to block the death blow aimed at his head.

Ugh, that was horrible. Sorry about that. However, it's action. Sure, there's some questions. Who is Darin, why is someone trying to kill him with a sword, will he win, do we want him to win?

How about this (probably just as badly written—bare with me)

The flickering streetlamp gave Darin just enough light to see them coming down the alley. Four against one? It seemed a little extreme, but maybe they'd heard about what happened in Boston. Unfortunately, he didn't have a set of Bestes Guards with him this time around.

Huh, whatever.

I guess there's still “action” with Darin looking and figures coming at him down the alley. But in this one I feel like there are more questions. Who is Darin, where is he, who are the four people/figures doming after him, what happened in Boston, what are Bestes Guards, why did he have them before and why doesn't he have them now, do we want him to win? And the four against one bit makes me laugh. This gives Darin's voice some life, which is good. I think. I hope. If not, I've spent a lot of time over the past 18 months apparently not learning to write.

I've tried to start a couple of stories and novels with pure action, and it's never felt good to me.

But the up and coming authors say to keep it moving fast and furious right from the get-go.

I think I might have to twist that little bit of advise to meet my own sinister purposes. Buahahahahaha . . .


Jordan said...

Gunlord starts with action, but not until the end of the first chapter. I figure that's close enough to beginning with it. If the first paragraph was Chatte seeing his brother get shot, it wouldn't come with as big a punch. I think a character needs to be introduced before they are thrust into conflict... That way it matters when they are in the thick of it.

Tohru said...

I'd be hooked by the second one and keep reading to find out what on earth was going on. The first...meh. I do need my action, but the implication of upcoming action sates my needs:)

Anthony Dutson said...

I'm with Tohru and Jordan. The second text was much more interesting for me, because I like to 'see' where I am first. Action for actions sake makes me feel like I'm blindfolded on a roller-coaster. Which is why I think Jordan's first chapter of Gunlord worked so well. The scene was described and tension was building toward the action. So, I guess, if tension = action, we'll be published in no time! ;)

Farfegnugen said...

I think I've decided there are no real rules.