Monday, February 13, 2012

Starting In The Right Place: Are You a Flasher or A Meander-er?

One of the biggest issues I see with some of the free downloads I’m reading on my Kindle is that many of them are starting in the wrong place. The concept of the story sounds great, but the beginning isn’t enough to pull me in, or it’s full of so much backstory and narrative.

We are an impatient society. We want our food fast, our internet fast, and our women . . . (just seeing if you’re paying attention).

So how do you know if your story starts in the right place?

Wanna come to a party and find out? Put on your fancy shoes and step inside. Drinks are on me. 

When I was rackin’ my brain trying to come up with a way to explain how to start a story in the right place, I kept seeing two friends of mine. We’ll call one Matilda and the other Amy.

Matilda is responsible. She works hard and likes her life to be as simple and stress free as possible. Amy also works hard, but she grabs each minute of her free time and lives it completely. These two girls are a blast, but they are very different.

Matilda takes her time in each situation. She thinks things through. She wanders the food table, samples a bit of the usual tid bits, takes a cracker or two, but she just isn’t ready to jump into the gooey stuff everyone’s been raving about—too risky. She nurses her drink while she makes small talk with Jimmy, a friend of a friend’s brother Larry. They chat about nothing in particular, in fact, Matilda can’t remember his name. She’s so preoccupied with saying the right thing that she loses a bit of focus.

Meanwhile, Amy doesn’t waste any time. She storms into the room and announces her presence. She skips the crackers and cheese and takes a big dollup of the gooey stuff and smacks Jimmy on the ass. She doesn’t waste time with idle chit chat; she heads straight for the dance floor. She isn’t much of a dancer, but that doesn’t stop her. And when the party starts to waver, she’s the first to flash the crowd and bring them back to submission.

So am I saying your main character needs to flash her boobs and smack some ass? Yep, I am. We don’t have time to meander through the crowd, building up courage to talk to the hot shot across the room. We need to start with action—purpose—and not only lead the reader through the story, but pull them by the eyeballs.

I’m a smart reader, most of the time. I catch onto things. Trust me a little bit. Let me discover and feel the story. Resist the urge to explain. Have a drink. Flash your boobs. (book boobs, not real boobs)

This is a hard lesson, I know. I’m a meanderer in real life. I don’t wanna touch the gooey stuff, especially not after Larry double dipped. I want to get to know people slowly, so I know whether I can trust them. I don’t want to be the first on the dance floor. But if I bog people down with backstory and dense narrative right from the get go, I’m gonna be the girl who doesn’t get invited back to the party, and what a shame that would be since I just bought a fancy pair of shoes. 

What do you think about starting in the right place? Do you see more stories getting it right or meandering?


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Excellent post, Diana. I've read both kinds of novel and if the writing is good and interesting enough, I'll persevere for a while. But when writing my first published novel, I eventually began with action - after a few false starts trying to get into the story! Lesson learned, hopefully.

mooderino said...

I think this is one of the hardest things to figure out. I don't think it needs to be all the full boobage, a little side boob maybe? Or a very quick flash? In other words you don't have to start in the middle of a war zone, as long as the character is doing something with purpose I think it can be engaging.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Tracy said...

I agree with is difficult to find the 'right place' and I think depending upon how the book plays out, it could change! great post...

S.P. Bowers said...

Good thoughts. I've always heard that a book needs to start when something changes. What happens that propels the character forward? Don't start the morning or day before that. Start when it changes. And the change needs to lead to the end. The problem we see at the beginning needs to be resolved at the end.

J.L. Campbell said...

A writing coach I once had told me to always trust the reader and to always assume that he/she is more intelligent than I am. With that in mind, I now tell the people who are taking my workshop that they should start the story immediately. Do not give me mundane info. unless you have a really, really, really, really good reason. :)

With so many books on Amazon, writers have to be mindful that it's no hardship for readers to chuck something they've paid a dollar for and move on. Perhaps that's why my edits are never-ending.