Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Too much, or too little info all up front?

...so, for Taneasha, who asked me about beginnings--let me kind of sit sideways on my soapbox, because I'm probably not the right person to ask.

In the beginning, lol--my beginning, not "a" beginning--I listened to a lot of Harlequin-advice. There's a glut of it on the market, because the world breaks down into two categories. Harlequin, and not-Harlequin. I wanted to write for Intimate Moments--it's always been my dream job. The great editor who shall not be named because of Google alerts, was building her stable of soon-to-be-damned-famous writers, and I loved each and every one of them. My heroines, Linda Howard, Rachel Lee, Suzanne Brockmann and Elizabeth Lowell.

IM's, because of their very nature--tend to be short and sweet. Get in, get out. I dropped into the action so fast, I got more complaints than compliments, although looking back on it I think it was a perception issue. The people at Harlequin turned me down for my horrible writing skills, not my...uhm, speed of entry.

Harlequin "starts with the action."

In romance, the current trend is screen writing techniques. There's a lot of "start in the ordinary world". Yeah, well...that works for movies.

Every page of script = one minute, so you're talking maybe three or four minutes of subjective time. In a book, four minutes in? Nothing is going on? You've lost your audience. Screenwriting as "the" tool for fiction doesn't work. Screenwriting is "a" tool.

Ordinary world would be Connor at DalCon. But DalCon is in Hawaii, and that's a lot of page-age between Hawaii and Singapore. What happens in-between? Why am I showing in-between? What's going to keep your person turning pages? Is it prequel time? Do I want a prequel?

BUT--if I (Harlequin-style) show him dodging bullets on his way to the baggage claim, I'm going to have to stop and explain who Jacey is, and what Connor is doing there.

The most logical step would be to take a very short step back--not to the ordinary world, but to right before the action. Set up the characters, set up the situation, and make sure the info dump is done in a logical way,so it's not really info dumping, but a natural part of dialog or internal thought.

ie

her new partner, Connor Dalfrey

Her new what? Partner? What kind of partner?

"I'm Jacey," she breathed.

someone she's never met, lol

In some ways, it depends on subtext. You can't beat people over the head with it, but you can't not say it. In some ways the contest is a godsend, it strongly illustrates that some people will catch faint subtext, while most people need a bat. I think I'd have been happy with sixty forty, but I ended up with ninety ten. I've got to up those odds or risk alienating my reader, so it's back to layering my beginning.

Bujold calls it "message sent equals the message received".

..say you've got two people--as in Taneasha's case--they've met and they're about to get closer. Where's the best place to open?

It's not where, it's who and what you do with it. The story is about a "who". A brief run through would show all the possibilities. She could open outside with a door shot, and servants and people and external random povs about how handsome the hero is, and how much he loves his house etc. Or, from afar, admiring the heroine with a brief bit about her lovely eyes. Or he could walk into the nursery, ignore the other people, and again--focus on her lovely eyes. Or some kind of "hooky-hook" like "I would rather die than let my child grow up in a room like this."

Which would fizzle off because it's not a story with high melodrama, and you're left with the question--what the hell was that about? It's better to start quietly, laying the scene off to the side, introducing the characters, and how they interact, and let them talk--which gets across the info, he's interested, she's interested, they have problems talking. Then the story starts, and the story idea carries through...they have problems talking, and it's illustrated through...

Sometimes, a quiet hook is better than a loud glittery piece. And that's probably no answer, but...it's subjective. Everything depends on what sub-genre you're targeted at, and common devices for that sub-genre. An erotica would open with heat and a splash, a futuristic would open with some way to identify it as being in space.

8 comments:

Alice Audrey said...

That's what I thought I was doing in Zackly Right.

Jeanna said...

Anyone who thinks you can't write is a tool.

Unhinged said...

As a writer, I've always been a fan of beginning smack dab in the middle of it and letting the character's reactions and words convey what's going on behind the scenes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As a reader, I don't expect that the story has to begin with guns blazing--but there has to be something there to hook my attention--either I have to connect with the character quickly, or with the author's writing.

Grisham hooks me with his plots (not his characters so much). I love a Grisham, but his stories are similar to watching a movie. Um, kind of.

Mary Balough hooks me with her characters--and I think her books are a good example of slow-starting books that are worth the time investment (IMO).

jodi said...

I love Mary Balogh. I have all her regencies. Lol, Jeanna.

I think you need to tweak the beginning of Zackly Right, Alice. Not a big tweak, just a small one. But more than that, I think you need to clean and finish Suzie's House.

And submit it.

Alice Audrey said...

Where would I submit it? As what?

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Beginnings are really, really, really hard. Absolutely.
Just sayin'.
I'm a slow starter. Too slow most of the time.

jodi said...

Alice, you would submit it as a contemporary, to an agent. Why don't you print out everything you have (I know you have backups) and take a good hard look at it? It might need a tweak to put it firmly in one category or another, but I think it falls into contemporary. You might have to consolidate the plot.

Leslie Wainger brought up a very good point, that writers like Dickens were serial writers, and got paid by the word, so their writing (like Bleak House) tends to ramble, but in all--be a very good story.

Then again, so was ERB Edgar Rice Burroughs. And his stuff didn't. Depends on how you put it together.

I know you can do it. I'll bet your readers would think it was a good idea. Why don't you ask them what they think?

Jen, your stuff rocks. And I mean that. I'll be honest, your rs rocks harder than your other stuff. I would read it, and I'm uber-picky.

Alice Audrey said...

Well, I'll think about it.