PDA

View Full Version : Fast or slow beginning?



Edmontonian
08-23-2008, 09:40 PM
Hello everyone,

The advice of most articles and books on writing is that for an unpublished writer of fiction (spy/thriller/suspense in my case) a fast and action-packed beginning, either prologue or first chapter is indispensable. However, when browsing best sellers or not at a local bookstore, you find numerous books with a slow, cozy pace in the beginning that unfold into a full-fledge suspense plot. My question is: When one is learning and trying to find a path to follow, should he take heed of the theoretical advice of what is taught in books or the empirical evidence he can see and touch everyday?

Thanks,

ED

Deccydiva
08-23-2008, 09:55 PM
I don't know why this should be specifically for unpublished authors, I like to be pulled into a story pretty quickly so my attention is grabbed whoever the author is. However, some of my favourite authors have "slowed down" their opening chapters with more recent titles but I forgive them as I am a fan of their work.
I recently read a chapter as a beta, the first time I have done it and I found the opening and first few pages gripped me immediately so it was a pleasure to carry on and enjoy the rest of it. I might have struggled, otherwise.
I would go for the fast beginning, personally.

joyce
08-23-2008, 09:59 PM
I prefer to read something that grabs me from the very first page. When I'm starting a new novel, I always try to make the very first paragraph something that stands out and grabs you. That's just me though.

CheshireCat
08-23-2008, 10:15 PM
Hello everyone,

The advice of most articles and books on writing is that for an unpublished writer of fiction (spy/thriller/suspense in my case) a fast and action-packed beginning, either prologue or first chapter is indispensable. However, when browsing best sellers or not at a local bookstore, you find numerous books with a slow, cozy pace in the beginning that unfold into a full-fledge suspense plot. My question is: When one is learning and trying to find a path to follow, should he take heed of the theoretical advice of what is taught in books or the empirical evidence he can see and touch everyday?

Thanks,

ED

I'm going to try this one more time. Ed, go back to that bookstore and back to the mystery/suspense/thriller areas. Now look for books by debut and relatively new authors.

Not multi-published bestsellers: Once an author is established, whether they "break the rules" has absolutely no bearing on whether a new, unknown writer can do the same.

The brutal truth is that unless you have a track record of strong sales, an agent or editor is going to give you no more than a page or three to get their attention. Fail to do that, and you'll be rejected.

Period.

Whether you're able to get their attention with an action scene or some kind of intriguing character interaction depends on the story and on your skill as a writer.

But, generally speaking, if something interesting isn't happening in the first five pages of a mystery, a suspense, or a thriller, few readers -- and even fewer agents or editors -- are going to keep reading.

Edmontonian
08-23-2008, 10:26 PM
Hi CheshireCat,

I hate to sound controversial, but I heard you the first time and I was mostly looking for some imput from people whose thoughts I do not know.

ED

Shadow_Ferret
08-23-2008, 10:30 PM
I have attention deficit, if you don't grab me in the first few graphs, I'm on to the next book. Doesn't matter if they are established authors or new. Doesn't even matter if I liked the authors last couple of books. No one gets a free pass with me. Grab me or I'm out.

Clair Dickson
08-23-2008, 10:32 PM
I prefer something that gets my attention right from the start. Something that makes me wonder 'hm? what's next?' Unless I know the book has something else of interest to me, I would much rather an fast start, then a slow meandering ease into the story. No foreplay, please, let's have some ACTION!

Cranky
08-23-2008, 10:34 PM
Hi CheshireCat,

I hate to sound controversial, but I heard you the first time and I was mostly looking for some imput from people whose thoughts I do not know.

ED

Well, to be frank, when you open a thread, you are pretty much opening the door for everyone to comment, Ed, whether you've heard their opinions/thoughts before or not.

With that out of the way, I'll say this (in addition to agreeing with what Cheshire Cat already mentioned above):

There is a difference, and a stark one, in my opinion, between a "slow" opening and a boring opening. Things can start off slowly but still be intriguing or interesting. Slow pacing can be used effectively, again imo, to help build the suspense if done well.

I think that you adhere too strictly to the "fast" opening at your peril. Do not mistake fast for exciting or interesting, and don't mistake slow for boring and dull.

Just my thoughts.

ETA: I'm using "you" here in the general sense, not the specific. Thought I should add that, for clarity's sake. :)

Beach Bunny
08-23-2008, 10:59 PM
Hello everyone,

The advice of most articles and books on writing is that for an unpublished writer of fiction (spy/thriller/suspense in my case) a fast and action-packed beginning, either prologue or first chapter is indispensable. However, when browsing best sellers or not at a local bookstore, you find numerous books with a slow, cozy pace in the beginning that unfold into a full-fledge suspense plot. My question is: When one is learning and trying to find a path to follow, should he take heed of the theoretical advice of what is taught in books or the empirical evidence he can see and touch everyday?

Thanks,

ED
I read a lot and have done so for many years. When a favorite author stops giving me that fast, action-packed beginning and their writing degenerates into slow and meandering, then I usually stop reading that author and look for someone new. So, while a former favorite author's new stories may be best sellers, I will not buy their books anymore. As a result, I am always on the lookout for new favorite authors.

There are quite a few authors who I used to love reading who have fallen by the wayside. Bookstores no longer carry their books.

There are some authors that I have been reading for years who consistently write well. They grab me from the beginning and keep me reading until I finally reach the end in the wee hours of the morning. In my opinion, those are great authors who have not lost their touch.

So, if your looking for empirical evidence among the bestsellering authors(which is not a bad thing to do), I suggest picking up one of the first books they wrote that became a bestseller, not their current bestseller and see if your observation holds true. I'm betting that it doesn't. :)

Madison
08-23-2008, 11:23 PM
Just a reminder...

A beginning doesn't have to be full of guts and gore and bodies in the bathtub and mad chase scenes round Europe to be grabbing. What might seem like a 'slow beginning' can be extremely intriguing if executed properly with lots of tension (again, tension isn't always action and death) and intriguing characters.

CheshireCat
08-23-2008, 11:58 PM
Hi CheshireCat,

I hate to sound controversial, but I heard you the first time and I was mostly looking for some imput from people whose thoughts I do not know.

ED


Okay.

maestrowork
08-24-2008, 12:52 AM
Ed, everything is just opinions but some have more experience than others. Nobody has the exact secret of publication -- otherwise, we'd all be best-selling authors. But there are some things that are tried and true.

The thing is, this generation grows up with TV and movies, and their attention span is general short, and there is a whole lot of entertainment vying for their attention: TV, Internet, iTune, video games, movies, comic books, etc. Even if you go to the book stores, you'll find thousands of books there -- and you don't have a whole lot of time to find out which one is a good read. So you're limited to a few pages, if that, to decide if a book is worth a try. That is particular true for first-time, unknown authors. And most people read the first page or two and see if it hooks them.

It's not right or wrong, just the way it is. And if you're a known author like Stephen King or JK Rowling or John Grisham or even lit fic writers like Michael Chabon, you already have a fan base and you have more flexibility to write anything you want, any way you want. Still, it depends on the genre. Read a King's book or a Grisham's, and you'd realize they also start quickly (with some exceptions, of course. Grisham's A Painted House didn't really get moving until after page 60 or so). If you're literary writer, then you may have even more leeway to start slower than usual, because it seems that literary readers are more tolerant of that.

Still, if you have a choice, you should consider starting the story as quickly as possible. Hook your readers. But you don't have to start with action or explosions or a huge conflict. Starting quick doesn't mean starting with a BANG! The point is: have something that is interesting that makes your readers want to flip the page to find out what happens next. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will get the readers to fork out that $15.

SPMiller
08-24-2008, 12:56 AM
You hold the reader's attention with tension, not action. They aren't necessarily the same thing. That means your character(s) want something, but someone's preventing them from getting it. Maintain that tension by denying resolution. Don't give your characters what they want until later.

If you start your story with tension and sustain it, most people will keep reading.

maestrowork
08-24-2008, 01:04 AM
And another thing, it's not just "theoretical." Agents and published authors all said the same thing. Donald Maass even had his own book out about this. So do you want to base it on your own "hunch" or do you want to listen to a real well-known agent?

ishtar'sgate
08-24-2008, 01:25 AM
I'm not sure an opening has to be action-packed but in any genre of fiction I expect a good hook, something that compels me to read on. For example in Michael Crichton's book, Timeline, it starts off as nothing special - just two people in a car arguing about a vacation destination. Then they hit someone with the car. Once they hit the guy, I couldn't put down the book.
Linnea

Edmontonian
08-24-2008, 02:34 AM
Thank you to everyone for your valuable words of advice. I guess I will have to do a little more revisions to my prologue and first chapter.

ED

smoothseas
08-24-2008, 02:41 AM
I have attention deficit, if you don't grab me in the first few graphs, I'm on to the next book. Doesn't matter if they are established authors or new. Doesn't even matter if I liked the authors last couple of books. No one gets a free pass with me. Grab me or I'm out.


Absatively, posilutely...

A well-crafted opening hook gets me every time.

Ms Hollands
08-24-2008, 03:04 AM
Just a reminder...

A beginning doesn't have to be full of guts and gore and bodies in the bathtub and mad chase scenes round Europe to be grabbing. What might seem like a 'slow beginning' can be extremely intriguing if executed properly with lots of tension (again, tension isn't always action and death) and intriguing characters.

So, is Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children included in this? Because I got about three chapters in and gave up, it was so god damn awful.

IceCreamEmpress
08-24-2008, 03:11 AM
There is no advantage to a beginning that doesn't grab the reader.

So grab the reader with action.

Or grab the reader with compelling characters.

Or grab the reader with tension.

Or grab the reader with humor.

It doesn't have to be action, but you have to grab the reader with SOMETHING.

maestrowork
08-24-2008, 03:42 AM
Even with literary fiction -- some may mistake that they can make it slow... nothing happens for five chapters while we describe the walls and furniture. Not really. Someone mentioned tension, and that's a good start.

For example, in Atonement (my favorite book for discussion of late), there's no fights, no arguments, no explosions or car chases, and no deaths. But right off the bet the writer set the tone: Briony is a precocious young writer and she's anxious about her play! She wants everything to be perfect but she's not happy. Then we feel the sexual tension between Cecila and Robbie. So right off the bet, the three main characters are introduced and there is tension among them, and their relations are pivotal to how the story eventually unfolds, actions and misunderstandings that eventually change all their lives. The "slow moving" first few chapters are riveting to read because of the tension.