1. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Do you believe in spend near half the book to actually start the main plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by MarionRivers, Aug 22, 2008.

    Many great authors, including and especially Stephen King, write in such a way that around 1/4 to 1/2 of the book is usually introduction and characterization and that the main story elements really do not rear their head until the book has been going on for a while.

    I think this is a fantastic style. Books are not like movies, where time is short and the crux of the story needs to start rolling fairly soon. Books are to be delved into and enjoyed like a lengthy multi-course meal. If the first 125 pages set the scene, imagine how much impact the remaining 200 pages will have?

    EDIT- I know the title's grammatically incorrect. I made that mistake.
     
  2. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    Well, I personally don't like when authors do it. Maybe fifty pages or so would be fine, but past that point it's annoying. I think the most classic example in fantasy would be Lord of the Rings, where it takes around a hundred pages for Frodo to even leave the shire. If one of those people who like to go through books in one or two sittings, so if I'm not hooked relatively soon... well, the book goes to a reserved corner in a neglected bookcase.
     
  3. ParanormalWriter
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    ParanormalWriter Contributing Member

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    I actually have a bit of patience at the beginning of a book, as long as the characters or their actions are entertaining. I don't mind waiting a reasonable amount of time to find out the main plot--but to me reasonable means a couple chapters. And even then, I don't want to read about the characters day to day lives or anything that dull. I like things to be set in motion fairly early on, even if the motion has little to do with the deeper plot yet. So in answer to the question, no I don't mind if the story plot is a little delayed, but there'd better be something else that's darned entertaining to hold me over until I get to the point.
     
  4. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have some patience, but there better be something at least related to the plot in the first fifty pages, or:

    1. Either the writer the wrtier is writing the wrong book
    2. It won't be the book I thought it was
    3. I might be a bit apathetic about finishing
     
  5. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I usually have detailed novels, explaining everything I can within the limits of boredom. I cut out scenes which are probably important, but they would make the pace slow for no good reason. I don't like novels who are too ambiguous, and no, I won't tolerate 50 pages of nothingness. I appreciate that the author takes a couple of chapters to create a scene, but if it takes me 2 hours to finish a novel, the 'starting off' shouldn't be longer than 15 minutes.
     
  6. ZionsRodeVos
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    ZionsRodeVos New Member

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    As long as the book is interesting then I can wait for the main plot. Too much detail without something to keep me interested and I simply put the book away and don't bother with it again.
     
  7. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tolkien got away with it, but then again, Tolkien got away with a whole lot of things that are normally considered bad ideas. It just goes to show that "bad" writing can actually end up being some of the best writing.

    But yeah, I usually don't like that kind of thing unless the characters are really gripping.
     
  8. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Well, on the one hand, I write REALLY really long stories--at the moment I'm on Part 180 of a serial and the climax hasn't arrived yet--so I know all about taking one's time. :D

    But on the other hand, I really think there should be at least lesser aspects of the main plot touched upon prior to getting halfway through the book. I'm betting that even Stephen King does this, just not in a very noticeable way--I don't see how the entire first half of a book can be nothing but characterization and building up without ANY reference to the main plot, and yet still keep the reader's interest. Even if it's just smaller subplots that tie in to the main plot. There has to be something about the plot. Otherwise it'll just seem like an immense waste of time for the reader.

    So on the one hand I have nothing against a writer taking their time getting to the main point, but on the other hand, there really has to be at least some sort of reference to the main point earlier on in the work, else the entire first half will have no point existing. It'll be like starting the story before the story has even started.
     
  9. MarionRivers
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    MarionRivers Member

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    Yeah. He does make references and builds up to the main storyline, but the vast majority of the substance is just character's lives.
     
  10. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    I like my novels to take some time to introduce the character's normal lives.
    Granted, half the novel is a bit excessive for characterization with no plot working in, I would imagine at least the basics would be planted in, or the plot is taking place right in front of us but we don't know what it is.

    For an 800 page book, 200 pages with characterization with plot points being introduce here and there is fine. Generally a novel should take soe time to introduce it's characters and what kind of life they have.

    If the writer dosen't care enough about their characters to give them lives, why should the reader care enough to find out if they keep them in tact?
     
  11. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, the real question is whether the opinions of a bunch of aspiring writers equate to the demands of the "average" reader. I believe we (in this forum) tend to be more willing to allow another writer the extra time to evolve the story, but I'm not so sure about the general public.

    Television, videogames, comic books, computer-based entertainment, "pulp fiction" style cheap books . . . these media have programmed many people from childhood to expect quick drama and "hooks" in their entertainment. If a writer (Stephen King, for example) succeeds in building a fan base, then that writer can afford to venture into any style of writing and his fans will follow. On the other hand, to become "successful" in the first place, a new author may be forced to rely on "hooks" to capture and hold the attention of new readers. I don't mean "hooks" just as action scenes . . . a hook might be development of an extraordinarily interesting character, or a highly unusual setting. Imagine a murder story taking place inside a disabled Russian submarine, sitting on the floor of the sea as it awaits arrival of a special deep-water crew rescue vehicle. Such a setting and development of characters could easily keep a reader's interest for the first 100 pages until the actual murder takes place.

    All I'm saying is that new authors don't enjoy the same privileges as those who have built a fan base. I am not a King fan but I suspect his early works got into the plot a lot faster than his later works . . . or the success of his movies produced the same effect in building a fan base.
     
  12. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Ok I have a lot of Stephen King and he seems to get into it fairly quickly to me. So maybe I mis understand.

    When I think about half a book of set up I think the Fisherman and the Sea or Great Expectations. Yeah Dickens is the best example. Even the old Dr. Dolittle novels have a lot of build up before the main action.

    I guess since I grew up reading my grandfathers novels I view this differnetly then some. Read Dickens. Read War and Peace, or the Prince and the Pauper. Read Watership Down those are novels that spend 3/4 of the book on setting then the last half bringing it together.

    My 2 cents
     
  13. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    I like my characters to develop slowly, but I don't like how they begin. I don't like when stories start with the characters name.
    I like when the setting is revealed to me then the character in the setting.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's a difference between waiting until halfway through the boof to start developing the plot, and the plot simply not being clearly visible until that point.

    remembering that a plot is the life cycle of a conflict, you may have several apparently unrelated conflicts that contribute to the growth of the priciple conflict. The principle conflict either may not exist until those earlier conflicts precipitate it, or the conflict can be simmering beneath notice until th econtributory conflicts aggravate it to a crisis.

    I feel it's very important to be very aware of your network of conflicts. It may even be worthwhile to chart them out - this from someone who almost never writes down character profiles or storyline notes.
     
  15. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Expecting a reader to wait 1/4 to 1/2 of the novel before the plot begins, I think is asking a bit much if an aspiring writer hopes to sell their novel. If they're writing it for pure enjoyment, that is another story. Of course, genre/mainstream is a little different than a literary novel, and one might be able to meander along a bit longer based with the latter.

    My thoughts are along the lines of NaCl's, but based on the following reasoning.

    A writer hoping to sell their novel has to get an agent to represent it, and then sell it, or has to get an editor at a publisher to accept it for publication. There are several ways this can be done.

    One way is through the query/writing sample/full manuscript method. While it depends on the market or agent, the most they generally accept is a cover letter, first three chapters, and a synopsis. Some require a query first, but for this discussion, the full contents of the query don't matter (unless you discuss that the main plot doesn't start until 40,000 words in of your 100,000 word novel--that would be a real lead balloon, if you ask me).

    So the editor or agent gets the first three chapters and synopsis. Some editors read the synopsis first. Some read the chapters first. If they read the synopsis first, what will it look like with half the book not involved in the main plot, but even if it interests them, they'll read the first three chapters and discover that basically nothing happens, or even remotely looks like it's going to happen. If they read the first chapters, and nothing happens, will they even bother with the synopsis? And this assumes that they are going to bother to read the first three full chapters with two to twelve other proposals that showed up in their inbox or mail box that day (which happens every day).

    Or you pitch a novel to an editor or an agent, maybe at a writers conference. Often they ask for the first 10 to 20 pages ahead of time. Nothing happens, and during the pitch session they remark upon that. What will our answer be?

    "Oh," says the aspiring author, "well, the main plot doesn't really get under way until chapter fifteen."

    "Fifteen?" asks the editor.

    The author nods. "That's correct."

    "How many chapters are in your novel?"

    "Thirty-one," says the author. “The first half the reader gets to know the main characters and the setting. Gets a picture of the main character's normal life before things start to happen."

    "So," says the editor, "the reader has one-hundred fifty pages of reading before the plot starts?”

    "Well, there are some subplots that are started, and things do happen that set up for when the main plotline starts."

    The agent looks at the sample pages again with a frown.

    The aspiring author says, "James Michener, he wrote Centennial, and the first one hundred or so pages was a history of North America from the ice age on. And some of Stephen King's novels, not much happens until about one-third of the way through. And he writes some pretty thick books compared to mine..."

    The editor asks, "Could you move the main action up a little more, say the first chapter or two?"

    "I could but..."


    =========

    Okay, the pitch session could go a little differently, and the author's responses might be different, but I just wrote it out in a manner to illustrate my point.

    The only way I see of having such a novel/plot structure that nothing happens in the first 1/4 to 1/2 of the novel that relates directly to the main plot moving forward would be if:

    1. Someone with some pull with an editor or agent recommended such an author (his work) to that editor or agent.

    2. A proven platform or record of sales, which would translate to a solid reader base, the editor/agent would be more inclined to go with the style. It's a business after all, and if there are readers who'll buy it, like they do Michener and King...

    Just my opinion on the topic.

    Terry
     
  16. AmberDextrose
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    I like what Cogito has said about Conflict. I think if you can show conflict in the first parts of the story then you're on to something. Today's readers are often looking for pure entertainment whilst on holiday, rather than an effort of literary beauty (we have Classics for that). But you'd have to remember that Conflict can only be sustained for a few chapters before the reader would want to see the promise of action fulfilled.

    TWErvin2 certainly puts across the impression I've received from the vast stack of books and articles I've read on getting published/finding an agent/editor.

    A friend of mine was putting this point across recently about her manuscript. She was worried about sending in the first 3 chapters to prospective agents "because the action doesn't start then". (She's not a fan of How To books, so she wasn't au fait with the current thinking on immediate action).

    In trying to explain the situation to her (I'd made the same mistake myself and been hit with rejection letters) I realised that as a Reader, I don't want everything laid out on a plate for me in several explanatory chapters because this (for me) dulls the story. It's far more exciting to receive drips of Back Story fed through dialogue or action than to have it all explained in some dry paragraphs of "she always used to..." or worse "her mother used to...", digging out old history that only the writer needs to know.

    I have a sneaky suspicion that a lot of classics are not so much brilliant literature so much as popular with film producers, which then prompts a re-print. Some of them are unbearably 'chewy'. The ones that really last are those that present a set of characters who face timeless issues.
     
  17. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I will have to remember all this for when I submit my first novel.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm also with cogito on this one. But the longer it takes for the plot to get going, the less likely I am to read more than 50 pages. I just finished reading Jurassic Park and was insanely bored in the first hundred pages because I didn't see what any of what was happening had to do with the story that I knew was going to happen.
     
  19. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    I guess since I read Jurassic Park before the movie, and the fact I am a serious nerd and have every book Michael Crichton has written, I loved the opening of Jurassic park.

    There was so much there that was left out in the movie. I really believe you need the build up for that one cause it hooked me right in.
     
  20. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    Wait, I think some of us are under the assumption that the average reader and agent will automaticaly lose patience with a book just because it dosen't get into the main plot right away. I mean isn't it possible for the book to be interesting regardless of if the main plot is taking place or not? I doubt any good publisher/agent will care if a book dosen't get to the main point right away as long as what they see is good and makretable. If a writer can make build up as exciting as the actual story, then it won't matter to anyone how long it takes to get past it.

    Not to mention regular readers, the people more likely to buy a book, are more patient then the average movie goer, as reading tends to take more patience no matter how fast of pace it goes.
     
  21. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I am under the impression that if it takes half of the novel (say 140 of 300 pages) before the main action/plot actually starts building/happening, the average reader/agent/editor will lose interest and move on to another book (or potential manuscript).

    Again, there are exceptions, more so with literary type works than with genre type works.

    Getting to the main plot to me means that actions, conflicts and events occur that are building towards the climax of the story. Starting that process 1/3 or 1/2 of the way through the book is a little late, in my opinion. That doesn't mean that character building, establishing the setting, and interesting things that don't directly advance the plot can't happen. But they shouldn't happen in such a way that they exclude or push aside advancement of the main plot. And yes, subplots intertwined with the main plot can move it forward. Those often result in the most interesting of books.

    The drive forward through the plot to the climax doesn't have to be 100% fast and steady. That's where pacing comes in.

    Terry
     
  22. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    However you failed to address the rest of my post, where I explained that as long as the build up towards the plot is well written and gripping, then the reader won't care how long it takes to get to the main plot.
     
  23. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If there is excess of material in a novel that isn't necessary to tell the story--just well written and possibly interesting, it is still fluff, isn't it? Why would a publisher pay to print 140 pages of a 300 page novel that are not necessary? If a writer is talented enough to write interesting stuff, why not do it while actually advancing the main plot? It is much cheaper and wouldn't hurt the quality of the novel if of the 300 page novel, the writer using the talents to interest and intrigue the reader (and editor and agent). The trimming could result in a 225 page novel.

    I read the assertion being made: It's okay to write 65,000 words of content that isn't germane to second 65,000 words (the actual story)--as long as it's well written and interesting.

    Of the first 65,000 words, 40,000 of it could be cut and the novel would still be quality a story (the plot and the good writing would still remain). Cut even half that much of the second half and the story's quality suffers, of not completely collapses.

    Explaining to an agent or an editor, or even a reader that:

    "Well no," says the aspiring author, "the main story doesn't really start until halfway through the book, but what I wrote before that happens is really good and interesting."

    "Why should it all that stay then?" asks the agent.

    "Because it's good and gripping and readers will enjoy it."

    The agent scratches her head. "Then why not use that talent and skill, and potential space in a novel length work to expand and improve the main storyline, making it more complex and intriguing, as opposed to just writing interesting and gripping content until getting around to starting the main storyline?"

    The author answers, "Because..."




    I don't have an answer, because I don't believe there is a good one. Maybe there is. Again, I write the dialogue to make a point.

    Terry
     
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've read a few novels that don't really have a plot, but I'm sure such a thing would not attract many readers. Readers will probably want to get into the action asap. That being said, I think it's important to get a little background info on the character(s) and maybe even the setting. But taking half a book to start a plot is a little ridiculous.
     
  25. Ore-Sama
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    "Well no," says the aspiring author, "the main story doesn't really start until halfway through the book, but what I wrote before that happens is really good and interesting."

    "Why should it all that stay then?" asks the agent.

    "Because it's good and gripping and readers will enjoy it."


    Wow, I'd never want to work with that agent. "Who like, cares if people would be more then willing to read all this, let's like, remove it, cutting down the quality of the novel and making it totally not so good so less people will want to read it just to fullfill some kind of standard" Unlike publishers, Book Agents tend to be smart and would not risk cutting out material that would make the book appealing just because it's not part of the main plot.

    The agent scratches her head. "Then why not use that talent and skill, and potential space in a novel length work to expand and improve the main storyline, making it more complex and intriguing, as opposed to just writing interesting and gripping content until getting around to starting the main storyline?"

    The author answers, "Because..."


    Maybe because not every story works that way? Maybe giving us a deep look into the character's normal lives before the main story starts will make us identify with the characters more and make the situation happening that much more impactful?

    Just telling an author to make the main plot longer and more intriguing is like saying "Hey, there's not enough fight scenes, throw some more in there" Expanding the main plot may just end up making it convoulted.
     

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