1. indy5live
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    indy5live Active Member

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    Concerning the Beginning

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by indy5live, Dec 29, 2013.

    In this day and age, I don't feel readers are as patient as they once were. They don't want to be bored with the lore of the environment, the characters, the conflict, etc., they just want to get to the meat of the story; the action and drama...so, in my opinion, an author has to be a bit more creative when considering what to write about in the first chapter of their novel then previous generations of authors. They almost have to throw the reader right into the action from the get go and then fill in the gaps later, using dialog or flashbacks.

    As a curiosity, I was just wondering how other authors decide on where to begin their story? Are linear stories a thing of the past or could one still get away with writing everything in chronological order?
     
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  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree completely. Modern technology has affected our attention spans in a very negative way. Anyway, to answer your question, I start as close to the end as possible when writing a story. Since you're limited in terms of the number of words, I find it best to introduce a character right away and work from there. You have a bit more flexibility when writing a novel because there's more space to work with. You certainly don't need to start with a conflict right away, but it has to be interesting enough to hold the reader's attention.
     
  3. John Eff
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    John Eff Member

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    You may have a point with regards to certain markets, but in general terms I'd disagree. Yes, life is perhaps lived at a faster (and increasing) pace but a book is a place where people can take refuge from it; somewhere to step off and get immersed in a tale while the rest of the world dashes about doing its thing. A place where time is something that happens to everybody else, if you like.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If you take a look at some of the books that win big prizes nowadays (and become best sellers—Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, for example) you'll realise that there is still room in the market for 'slow' books. Nothing wrong with fast books either. It's all a matter of taste.

    I'd say if you write a good story that intrigues from the start, you'll be on a winner, no matter how long, short, slow or fast it is. Intrigue comes in many forms. It can be a world you've never heard of before, a character who 'grabs' you, an idea that captivates or mystifies you, a place you'd like to be, or have already been, a relationship between characters that makes you want to know more about them. There is certainly a good case to be made for avoiding the 'info-dump' at the start of any story, but if your 'info' is presented as an exciting scene or idea, one that draws you in, then it's not a 'dump.' Is it?

    I'd say 'once upon a time' still works, and probably always will. Of course if lots of people have no attention span for a story, then there isn't much point in catering to them, is there? Let them play digital games instead. Write your books for the kind of reader you are yourself.
     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not just reading...

    most people today demand everything be done instantly, or sooner... and as easily/effort-free as possible...

    so, blame technology and basic human nature, as writers are merely keeping abreast of the times and giving the reading publich what most of the expect to get...

    as for beginnings, anything goes... and linear structure is no more a thing of the past than any other aspect of fiction-writing... all that matters is whether something 'works' or not...
     
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  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Actually, I don't think most people read to take refuge from daily life. If anything, they're looking for quick entertainment. That's why thrillers are so popular. People like everything to be quick and don't like to think too much about what they've read or watched. Gone are the days of long descriptions and slow characterization. I think writers today need to start considering the fact that the way the average reader consumes entertainment has changed. Whether or not this is a positive change is up for debate.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There was a Book TV segment this morning with an author whose premise was reading online is changing the way people read, making shorter novels more popular, degrading the importance of what we know as good grammar.

    I'm not sure I agreed with the author. I'd want to know that the difference represented a changed readership. I think it might be possible it represents an expanded readership. There were some interesting insights even though I didn't agree with everything she thought.

    The segment is 38 minutes and free online to watch:
    "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World"; Naomi Baron
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I want to be interested in the story from the beginning. But I can't say for sure though, that the elements you note, lore, characters, conflict, are the key to what doesn't get me reading past the first chapter.

    I've read books with long drawn out beginnings that still drew me in and some that didn't.
     
  9. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    You are right, the attention span of the modern reader has been shortened a bit because we are in a very spoiled society. We are used to immediate gratification, and constant production. People want to see conflict from start to finish and for everything in between to be deep enough to send our minds turning, but quick enough to read page after page. We are spoiled by technology and our social systems which rewards maximum productivity.

    Even so, the elements you have listed (with the exception of characters and conflict) are not what I would expect to see in the opening chapter of any story. That all sounds like world-building, which is most gratifying for me if I don't notice it. For Example I don't want to be read a map of a fantasy world. I want to explore it as the story takes me through it. Take Harry Potter for example. Rowling, did not give us most of the world even in the first book, but as the story progressed we got to spend more time learning to navigate the world.

    Linear stories have the potential to make great use of dramatic irony, but leave little room for mystery or suspense outside of character danger. Remember. everyone and everything has a past, starting the story where the action begins is the best way to go because the action of the story is the core, the thing that gives any importance to any other information.

    As @mammamaia said, it's really a matter of what works or not in the particular story you are trying to write.
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2013
  10. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Modern readers want more real-time interaction, yes, but several quotes seem to apply:

    “Don’t inflict the reader with irrelevant background material—get on with the story.”
    ~ James H. Schmitz

    To describe something in detail, you have to stop the action. But without the action, the description has no meaning.”
    ~Jack Bickham

    “There are far too many would-be works of fiction in which plot and character are not revealed, but explained.”
    ~ Peter Miller

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    ~ Mark Twain

    As for when to begin, my view is to first define the incident where the protagonist is knocked out of their comfort zone and given the problem that will drive them toward the climax. Then, back up far enough that the reader will understand what drives the character into that inciting incident, and thus have an emotional connection and reaction to it, just as the protagonist does.

    For what it may be worth, a case in point:

    For, As Falls an Angel, the incident is when the protagonist falls down a rocky hillside and breaks his leg. In pain, and trapped between a stone and a tree, he calls out that his guardian angel is asleep on the job, only to be answered by an angel who tells him that if he had any brains he wouldn't be in that situation.

    Originally, I began with Chuck, my protagonist, hiking, and grumping about his girlfriend leaving him, to place him on that hillside. But people said they found it too abrupt and report like. So, I backed up a bit further, and began when he enters his apartment and finds his girlfriend packing, and unwilling to discuss the matter. But people said they needed more intro for that scene, so I started with him in the office to show that he's not thrilled with his job and heading home, glad to be with the girlfriend who is about to leave him and start things off. So in reality, the woman's leaving is the inciting incident.

    That worked, but wasn't exciting, or related to the theme of the action after he meets his fallen angel. So I cheated. I began the story on the night after he meets her, placed in front of what was already there. I presented his mind state and the fact that it involved an unknown and mysterious her who was able to tear the material of his jeans to remove the lower section of leg without effort. I set a mood, and had him sigh and think back over the events that led to him being there, which made everything after a flashback, but one for which the reader had context, and hopefully, interest because they knew where it was going.

    It must have worked, because Double Dragon said yes and it's due out this spring.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    See, I think you're only partly right here. Yes, SOME people do look only for quick entertainment when they read ...this is why things like (short) thrillers, mysteries, Harlequin romances etc are so popular. (And that's not new; they've been around a long time.) Fair enough. If that's what you want to write, do write it. There is certainly a market for it.

    However, there are still many others who buy books because they want to immerse themselves in a story. Whatever you might think of the Harry Potter series, it was certainly slow, immersive—and it sold in massive numbers, and appealed to millions of readers, young AND old. There is still plenty of scope out there for this kind of storytelling.

    As far as the time it takes ...it doesn't take any longer to read a 200,000 word novel than it does to read four 50,000 word novels. So it doesn't really matter if a book lasts, does it? It just means you get more for your money if you go for the longer ones!

    I'm left feeling very flat, if it turns out a new book I'm reading is actually a 'fast-paced' story. I sprint through it, but it doesn't leave me satisfied, and I'm not entertained by it either. Before my brain and heart have had time to engage with it, it's over. It's like substitituting junk food for a good, solid meal.

    The day that everybody turns to reading junk novels, just because they have neither the time or the attention span to consume a solid reading meal, is the day I quit writing. Just no point.
     
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  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm one of those people, but I think we're in the minority. I get the feeling most readers are just looking for something to keep them entertained for a short period of time.

    It depends on how difficult the book is. Reading 50 pages of Faulkner is going to take me longer than reading 50 pages of Dan Brown.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's fair enough ...but all longer books aren't as complicated and difficult as Faulkner! There are many long stories which are incredibly readable ...like the aforesaid Harry Potter series. (And some short books which are VERY challenging too, by the way.)

    I take your point, but I hope you take mine as well. I refuse to write for people who can't be bothered to read more than a few pages of shallow, time-filling junk. I'd rather go watch paint dry.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I absolutely agree with you. In fact, I'm the same way. I'm writing for like-minded people (that is, people who like to think about what they're reading and like taking their time with a book). There's a smaller audience for relatively complicated works, but I'm fine with that.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. I'd kind of like to think quality will win out in the end. And the joys of snuggling down somewhere comfortable with a good, long book. When all the electricity has gone off for a week...!
     
  16. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I don't think they've ever been patient.

    Get them involved in the story as soon as possible. From the first word, if possible.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if that were true, dickens' 'tale of two cities' wouldn't have had any readers, thanks to what may be the longest of all opening sentences! :rolleyes:
     
  18. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I think you're going to find a difference in patience between age groups (adults may be more patient than the YA, MG and Children audiences) and genres. My mother loves mysteries, and my dad loves crime novels (which, I suppose, is like a sub-genre of mystery). I like to dip, occasionally into what they're reading (easy with my father, as he listens on audio). My mother's favorites tend to have slower starts, while my father's sling you right into the action. I, on the other hand, like fantasy. High fantasy seems to have an exciting opening, and then slows you down for a while and gives you some worldly background. More modern stories, like Urban Fantasy, tend to have a brief "slow" beginning, but, usually, by the end of the first chapter, something is different or has changed.

    Now, that's not to say that all novels in the aforementioned genres are going to be the same; it's just my basic experience with some of the genres that I hear/read a lot of. It just has a lot to do with market.
     
  19. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I'd say attention span has shrunk, but I can't think of any real evidence of such at the time being. However...

    I second these. I'm not writing to draw in the masses, though that would be quite ticklesome. I'm writing my story how I want and feel it should be told, and hope people will enjoy what I have to offer. We can't win over everyone. Don't compromise your vision.

    I, personally, enjoy the crap out of starting off in the middle of something. Maybe it's a lazy tactic (and I'd love to know if it is), but it immediately raises questions with the readers and requires them to keep going to find out what's happening. As far as linear/chronological storytelling goes, that's really all I do. I've yet to write something where flashbacks and whatnot are required. It seems almost like a crutch to me, but I'm sure there are perfectly valid and masterful examples of it being used out there that I haven't yet encountered. I might overlap on time when I jump from one character to another between chapters, but generally speaking I follow chronological order of events. To me, that lets the readers experience what the characters experience.
     

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