April 1, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue
The Terrible Tip: Do not plunge your reader right into the action.
From what I recall of the article, the author was listing mistakes to avoid in the opening of your novel. Her reasoning for this particular piece of advice was that until readers get to know the characters we they won’t care if they survive a battle, or if someone close to them dies, or if a house is exploding around them. She said you have to give the reader a connection first.
(Edit: fellow blogger KD DID IT found the article! Go check out Kristen Lamb’s post on 5 Red Flags Your Story Needs Revision to see the other side of the argument plus 4 other tips that aren’t remotely terrible. Even snarky, opinionated gals like me can’t refute the rest of her wisdom :))
Why I think this is Baloney:
1) I’m an avid reader and I completely disagree.
I want to be dumped right into some action. Throw me kicking and screaming into the abyss of conflict from the first page and I’ll keep turning pages to find out what’s going on and who these battle-hardened warriors are. If you spend more than a paragraph telling me who the character is, all about their family, describing the city they live in, or waxing poetic about how much they love their job, I’m out. Get me to the good stuff already! I won’t care about the details of your character until after I’ve seen something of the struggle they’re going to be dealing with in this book.
For example, as much as I ended up loving the Kushiel’s series by Jacqueline Carey, she spent pages and pages setting the scene before ever getting to any action. Her prose was undeniably beautiful, but I just kept wondering when we were going to get to the point. I never would have kept going if the books hadn’t come so highly recommended by my friends.
2) If it’s a mistake to plunge right in, why is that exactly what happens in so many novels?
I don’t really remember the beginning of most books, but I can tell you that I clearly remember the beginning of both Fight Club and Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. In both novels, Palahniuk starts dumps you right into the climactic scene, the very peak of the action. Not that I recommend this strategy for everyone, but he makes it work and makes it unforgettable.
For a less extreme example, let’s take mysteries where the main character(s) have to solve a murder. I can think of example after example of both novels and TV shows where we open with the murder itself happening or the MC finding the body or coming to the crime scene. Sploosh! Right into the action.
Now, I understand the this is my opinion and opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has one unless you’re a genetically engineered hominid grown in a test tube. Maybe I missed the entire point of that author’s piece of advice. Maybe she was speaking to a specific genre that is outside what I normally read or watch.
Fellow blogizens, what do you think? Can you dispute my argument? Do you agree with it? Leave a comment below to join in the debate!
And now I must go off to rewrite the prologue to my novel having realized it’s complete crap because it violates everything I said in the first point of my argument above. Whoops!