1. Ahen
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    Ahen New Member

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    Sample Submittal

    Discussion in 'Publisher Discussion' started by Ahen, Apr 14, 2016.

    As agents and publishers request samples (first 3 chapters or 50 pages), I'm concerned that they may be looking for a sample that grabs the reader immediately leading right away into the adventure of the book. However, I want to take time to establish my characters and the places where they live first before moving on to the more exciting parts of the story.

    Based on the experience of writers on this forum that have dealt with agents and publishers, to what extent are they either looking for or pushing for this type of thing? Is there a bias now to starting books in media res? How much build-up do they generally allow?

    I haven't submitted my work to anyone yet, but I have this nagging feeling that there is a bias to starting a story in media res these days even if that's not the way I want to tell my story.
     
  2. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    From what I've seen, in media res, (Or into the middle of things, thank you very much google.) isn't the issue. Starting with a scene that captures a reader's attention does matter. If you begin a story with nothing more than world building and character description a reader won't be in the mindset to care about any of it.
    I've seen movies and read books where the beginning doesn't start out with anything about the major plot of the story but it will start with some type of activity that grabs the readers attention while the author starts to sprinkle in the other items
    I can't remember the name of the movie I'm thinking of but there was some movie that starts with a close-up of a child with terror on his face. You get drawn in by his thoughts of anxiety then when the shot pans back you see he's standing on a diving board afraid of jumping in the water. It had nothing to do with the main story but it gave the viewer something to focus on while some the characters personality is portrayed to the audience.
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @doggiedude. You definitely need to grab the reader's attention from the start. Agents and editors have a lot of submissions to read, and if something doesn't grab them right away they're going to move on. That does not mean you have to start in media res. You can take your time to establish characters, setting, and the status quo if you like, but you better do that in a manner that grabs the attention of the reader, otherwise your chances are going to be hurt. No one is going to go through 30 pages that don't hold their attention to see if things get good later. Even in the bookstore, the first couple of pages are critical to my decision to buy. If they're not good, it is going back on the shelf. But, again, that doesn't mean in media res. It just means don't bore me. Give me something that makes me want to keep reading.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The beginning doesn't have to be directly linked to the main plot, but it should be events that are (1) interesting and (2) perceived as being somewhat high-stakes by the characters. A "main character wakes up, showers, brushes teeth, eats cornflakes" beginning is a bad idea.

    I've more than once used the example of the beginning of...um....that movie where dragons take over the planet and survivors grow tomatoes in perpetual twilight (research, people, research!). The main character has just learned that he has lost his desperately needed academic scholarship. That is incredibly high stakes for that character, even though it soon vanishes when the world is destroyed.

    Now, that beginning DID link to the main plot, because the main character's mother was one of the miners that accidentally dug up the dragons. But that link wasn't actually essential.
     
  5. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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  6. Ahen
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    Ahen New Member

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    Well, I find this comforting news. There's hope!

    Perhaps I'd overwhelmed myself with visions of jaded septuagenarian agent/publishers reading manuscripts belching out, "Kids these days got no attention span. You don't grab 'em in the first three paragraphs, they're gone!"

    I probably shouldn't share this, but I will anyway. I had been told many times that I really should read the Harry Potter books because ... reasons. So, I was at a book store one day a long time ago and knowing nothing about the series, I opened Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (I guess it was new at the time) and in the first two pages read, "I WARNED YOU! I WILL NOT TOLERATE MENTION OF YOUR ABNORMALITY UNDER THIS ROOF!" That was the end of my Harry Potter experience for a decade.

    Instant drama from a parent yelling at you in all caps? I played the home game and have no interest in participating during my personal time. (I did finally read the first book and found it surprisingly enjoyable.)

    However, I had also often been told I should read Ayn Rand books, but steered clear due to the obligatory marketing flyer in the middle to join the Ayn Rand 'society'. Well, I'm no Scientologist, so I'll pass on that. Yet at last, for some reason I cracked "The Fountainhead" and I found the opening visual compelling. I thought to myself, "here's someone who knows how to tell a tale and draw you in."

    I guess I need a book to start from a place of inner peace, not turmoil.

    I read the opening pages of "the Martian" and put it down. "I'm pretty much fucked," it declares in the first sentence. Yes, you are.

    Maybe its a personal thing, but if you don't trust your story enough to actually tell it, but rather feel the need to propel the reader immediately into the midst of it ... maybe it was never that good a story? Or maybe the writer just isn't that good at telling it?

    Anyway, oinos kai alethes.
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    False dichotomy. Starting at a high-stakes point doesn't mean you're not telling your story.

    The book that got me my agent starts with the MC sitting on a bench watching a caterpillar moving along a tree branch and trying to decide whether to go for a therapy appointment or not. There's hardly any action in that opening scene but it's intriguing (if I say so myself) and gets the reader invested in the character. That's the job of the opening scene and... well, every scene, really.

    One thing I've learned from agents and publishers? Don't start with your character waking up. Even if The Hunger Games did it.
     
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  8. Ahen
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    Ahen New Member

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    The description of that scene grabs me and I want to read it. What's it called?

    That's the exact kind of book I would read until the wood pulp was bare.
     
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  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's not published yet, but thanks :)
     
  10. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    You can absolutely both tell your story well and start somewhere that captures the imagination. That's part of the skill in writing. You need a strong intro, even if it's unrelated. In medias res is a used so much because it makes for a strong intro that makes the audience ask questions. That's why so damn many crime books start with a totally disconnected few pages of the crime from the point of view of the killer or the victim; someone we are never going to hear from again. Not because that's an amazing literary device or anything but because it immediately establishes the stakes and gets the reader wanting to know how it'll all end.

    Thing to remember here is that your story isn't just the a to b of your story. Course not. And at some point you need to stop asking yourself 'what makes a better story?' and start saying 'what makes this a better book?'. Maybe you can just jump a scene to the start to get us off on a strong foot, maybe you'll have to flash forward, maybe you'll need to give us the view from another character to give us a snapshot of a 'wow' moment; but you got to do something. Ponderous description is not bad for a story, but it's not a good intro for a book.

    I'm not talking about action either. I'm talking about intensity; about eliciting an emotional response. It's an appetizer. So if your book has mystery; mysterious intro. If it's funny, funny intro. If it makes you want to die then tearjerking intro. But no matter what book the right intro is not one that causes no feelings at all. Even if you need to set up the concept or dump some back story, wait and do that later.

    In my work three books have straight up tearjerking intros, the other one is a black comedy so it starts with funny stuff. One of them I deliberately wrote, the others I had to stop and think and find something that would be a good intro for them.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If that's what you're getting from the advice, I feel as if you may not be hearing the advice.

    As I see it, the advice is that you as an author shouldn't be deciding, "The story is going to be great, but the reader is going to have to do some work before he gets the privilege of starting to enjoy my book." If you want to present characters and background, the reader has to find them engaging and compelling, and has to enjoy that part of the book. He needs to feel as if he's in a story, right away. That story doesn't have to be the final, core story, but it should be some story.
     
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  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    @Ahen

    Given the success of The Martian, that book doesn't really make your point. Publishers want to make money. To do that, their books have to interest readers over other books in a very short window of time.

    Starting with setting or character development is a venerable and perfectly acceptable approach, but you have to give the reader something to interest her nonetheless.
     
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  13. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Indeed.

    To start with the backstory or the setting is, in so many words, saying that that is the most interesting thing going on. Not the characters, not the plot, not the action, not the romantic subplot, not even the witty dialogue. It's the setting. Now maybe your setting really rocks. Maybe it's super unique and rich and you can sell that in a small amount of words. Maybe your overall concept is so unique and clever and engaging that just that alone is going to get someone hooked. All of these things are possible. But that's not many books man. Not many at all.

    I'm not saying it's utterly wrong to do it. I'm just saying that you have to be very sure and even then, I think it's a reasonable question to ask why you are writing a book where the setting itself is going to be carrying most of the weight. That's why we so so many books using similarish approaches to create a strong start. By starting us off in the thick of interesting things, whatever those interesting things might be, it's saying the mystery/gore/sadness is the interesting thing going on here and to expect more developments along those lines.
     
  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I suppose Rebecca is a good example of a novel that starts with a focus on setting. Manderley is almost a character in itself and the description is so evocative that it really works.

    I think it'd get past an agent/editor/publisher today.
     
  15. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    There certainly are books where the setting is almost a character in itself. Books like the discworld series play off that to reasonable degree. But even then you can kinda tell a good discworld book from a bad one because the good ones don't start talking about how magic and mysterious the world itself is. There's no absolutes here but in general settings are a product of people, not the other way around and that's why even the most exciting of settings needs to be a story about the people creating the change not the setting changing. When settings change and develop they don't understand why or how or care at all why. They aren't alive in the same way and we can't sympathize with them.

    Especially in today's world where readers are much smarkier and have seen everything done somewhere it's very hard to argue any setting is so interesting and exciting that it can sell the book by itself.
     
  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yeah I wasn't disagreeing with you, just thinking out loud. :D
     
  17. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Now I want to write a story where the setting keeps randomly changing the rules on the characters.
     
  18. Ahen
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    Ahen New Member

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    I don't know, I think it makes it quite well. It's an example everyone is familiar with and illustrates the possibility of confirmation bias among publishers, i.e. is the Martian 'good' because it starts in media res? Or is it good on its own merit (or in my case despite its opening).

    Everyone likes different things. My issue with starting off in media res is that it tells the reader to care about the situation first and the characters later. It can and does work and has been used as far back as anyone can remember.

    In the case of the Martian, it makes a lot of sense to start that way because the book is really about the bizarre and crazy situation the character is in, not the character himself (or at least only secondarily so).

    My concern (or at least what I hope to find out) is if you have a story that is character driven, to what extent are agents/publishers trying to squeeze every manuscript into the situation-driven narrative of an action-filled opening?

    Perhaps there's not an answer and that's what I wanted to know. It depends on who you are talking to. I suspect that the real answer is that if you have a character-driven story and the publisher wants to change it into a situation-driven tale, then you've got the wrong publisher.
     
  19. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would worry about different things.

    First base - is simple ability to draft in lucid, interesting ways - terms of language and grammar.

    Editor reads opening, her eyes click past the 'he felt, he saw, the just, he was verbing - the long way around...'

    ...and our story slips into a rejection pile. [?]

    ...but then, of late, experience with fellow short story writers - they appear to master the craft of words, I am confident in their arms, wow and lovely, I think, an incredible 'voice.' But they fail on story, write it all so pretty, then, come last paragraph the horse rider MC, she goes home, it is the end. Nothing happened. That seems the big challenge, relentless, really.

    I think if your prose is attractive, take minds on a journey, you shall not fail somewhere, tho from my pov, getting anybody to read anything, really we should pay them [exasperation]. It is very difficult. Don't worry about where to begin the draft adventure, if you have confidence, be gorgeous on the page [their side of the page, not on yours, no] bravo, good luck, you will smash it :)
     
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