16 February 2015

Pacing-Easy Tiger

Last time I typed about starting a novel in the middle of an action scene. Not the best idea. It can work—all rules can be twisted or ignored if you're good—but there are more intriguing and solid ways to being a story.

Years ago I was at a writing conference, and I signed up for a review of the first five pages of my manuscript by two almost professional authors and a small group of my peers. I was terrified, but I did it anyway.

My entry started out with my cast of swaggering, bad a** characters infiltrating the temple of the snake god, in the middle of the jungle. There was action, there was humor, there was a guy in cursed, pastel, chaos warrior armor with an ax named Daisy. It was awesome. It really was.

But it wasn't a good start. I learned most of what I typed about last time from this little group. Even so, I'm still tempted to launch into a story just like I do toward just-out-of-the-oven brownies.

Out of the way, awesomeness coming through!

For a long time, I still wanted serious action at the beginning of my stories. But I knew better, so I would toss in a little about what was going on—just enough not to totally confuse the reader—and then I would go to action. Because that's where the awesome lies.

Again, there are better ways.

The pacing of a story is very important, and the pacing of each scene is even more so. Especially the beginning.

The goal, as I mentioned last post, is to keep the reader reading. Simple, right? So things need to move fast so the reader doesn't get bored. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

One of the books I pulled out to read the first 500 words was I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells.

The main character of this book believes he exhibits all of the attributes of a serial killer, and he does. You might think it would start out with him thinking dark thought and drawing us in with the horror element of the story. Instead, it starts out in a mortuary, where the main character pseudo works. The scene is slow, but as a reader I get pulled in and immersed before I even realize that ten pages has passed.

Why, you ask? Because Mr. Wells sets the tone and the mood for most of the book with this opening scene. The main character is disturbed, but he does his best to keep himself on a normal track. He is obsessed with death—he practically worships it—and this opening scene shows the reader what the main problem of the character arc is going to be. I don't care that the scene is him and his aunt washing the body of a dead woman from the small town they live in. Not very action packed, but more, and better, is that I now care about the character and his problem. And the author allowed me, the reader, the opportunity to settle into the scene, the character and the beginning of the story.

Most of the other beginnings I read exhibited a similar feel. Slow and quiet, but intriguing. And then the author will twist something that makes me go, “Wait, what?”

And then I keep reading. Because I don't want to stop.

Objective obtained.

What are your favorite beginnings?

Next time: The Voice (No, Not the Show)

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