1. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    Starting off a story with to much of a bang?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by thalorin19, Aug 3, 2011.

    One thing I have seen some published authors and many readers stress about a story is that it needs to grab their attention with something exciting. Hence when a lot of people are looking for a book they will read the first couple pages and see if it's exciting to them.

    I, myself, always try do that with my stories. I don't force something exciting to happen at the beginning but I always try to make sure that it grabs the readers attention. My question is that is there a potential point where it could be a little to much to start off?

    I'm working on my first novel. The beginning, like literally, starts off with a woman going insane before everyone because her son is about to be killed before her. The entire novel is supposed to be bleak and dark so it fits the story. But I'm worried whether a reader will be taken back a bit or maybe even confused by why this action is taking place immediately?

    For a little more detail I don't have the scene there to just grab attention. It's a horrid introduction for one of the main characters to show right away that he is brutal and ruthless. But anyways, what are your thoughts?
     
  2. JPGriffin
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    JPGriffin Senior Member

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    I've said this with a few reviews before- If you start off big, then it'll be hard to build up from there. A story should never plateau in excitement- you need to build up from a base and then have it peak at the climax. If you start off with too much bang, then the reader will either miss the climax, or think of the novel as more of a comic book, not meant to be as a compliment. A hook is important, but it doesn't have to be the very start of a plotline- it could be someone waking up late for a job interview, or even just a fisherman catching a fish. If it's worded well enough, and if it's connected somehow to the main plot, it'll work.
     
  3. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    To add to what JPGriffin said (which I totally agree with), things only hook the reader if the reader has a reason to care about the action. If they don't care about what is happening, it's just going to overload them with action.

    That's not to say you can't have something huge happen in chapter one, but there still has to be a degree of build up beforehand.
     
  4. Knight's Move
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    Knight's Move Member

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    When starting a piece of writing, I just start with the first event that is relevant and important to the story (except certain bits kept for flashbacks, etc). Almost anything can be an exciting hook if you can find a way to write it as such.

    Now if you're having your climax on the first page, that's a plot issue, not so much a writing one.
     
  5. NaughtyNick
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    NaughtyNick Member

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    I, likewise, am slightly perturbed by the pressure to "grab" the reader / publisher's attention in the first couple of pages. There is a danger, like you say, of making the opening scene overly dramatic which can have a negative effect on the overall tone and flow of the book. How many of the classics throw in high drama right at the start? Not many that I can think of. Perhaps in the past, the shelves of book shops were less crowded and writers felt less of an impulse to be noticed. I don't know. All I know is that an opening scene of a book can be interesting without melodrama, angst, violence, even tension. Often the best openings are understated and subtle, painting a picture, portents to drama and conflict further down the line.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Anytime you see someone say you "have" to do this or you "can't" do that, they're generally wrong. Same with this thread. I've read good books that start huge and right in the middle of the action, with no build up at all. And I've seen good books that start slow. I've read bad examples of each as well.

    You should try to grab a reader's attention quickly, but different things grab the attention of different people. Sometimes it even depends on the mood of the individual. There are times I wan't something fast-paced and action oriented, and a book that doesn't start like that doesn't hold my interest. Other times, I want to read something that is beautifully written, and when I find such a book it doesn't matter to me if there is any action initially because the writing itself is what grabs my attention.

    Write your story the way you want to and just focus on doing it well. Questions of "can I do this or that" are irrelevant. If you can do it well, then yes, you can do it. If you can't write your story well then you can follow every so-called rule there is and it's not going to save you.
     
  7. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's a good idea to start a novel off with a death as the reader has no reason yet to feel sympathetic towards your character. It's just a name - they haven't bonded with the character enough yet to know who they are, why they're important or why they should give a damn about them.

    I've found the most gripping book openings I've read have started off with a unique/odd thought, something that I can I relate to or an amusing piece of dialogue. A book I bought a few months back purely based on the opening page actually began with the main character in a coma, thinking about the word 「雨」 (read as ame: rain).
     
  8. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think you literally need to start off with a 'bang', and go all action-overboard.

    But starting with something that sparks the reader's interest or is intriguing is a good way to go.

    I'm going to experiment with using a flash-forward. Someone in the know gave me a good idea in that regard, and I think it may work well for my opening.
     
  9. Seye
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    If you are talking about 'the hook' then I believe it is your writing which sets the point. A writer can have an amazing experience to tell but if the writing doesn't match, then the image gets lost.
     
  10. Show
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    I think you can have too much of a bang but I often feel that people stress the bang too much. Write your story and see how it works. You can tinker with stuff like the beginning later on.
     
  11. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Start off with a bang, then start to build up. Impossible, you say. Build up leads to bang, not bang leads to build up. Ah, but that's where you're wrong.

    Let's give it a hook. Feel free to use this opening or substitute your own.

    "The woman was insane."

    This will almost certainly bring readers in. Better still, they will have questions in their head. Why did she go insane? Reveal it's because her son died in front of her. Why did her son die? And so on, and so on.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. I don't think it is possible to start with too much of a bang, personally. I don't think you need to start with one to hold interest, but it strikes me as odd to say that one has begun with too much of one.
     
  13. Show
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    Perhaps odd but hardly untrue. Anything can be carried to excess, including bangs. If a story can start off too bland, it can surely start off with too big a bang for the story that follows. Balance and appropriateness is key for any story and both extremes are hindrances.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know. It is easy to think of starts that would be too slow. Can you give an example of something that would be too much of a bang, so right off the bat the reader just says "oh, that's too much?" Of course, if you start off that way you have to live up to it with the rest of the story, but if you don't does that mean your opening was at fault or that the rest of your book was at fault?
     
  15. Leah
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    Leah Member

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    I certainly think it can be done - but imo it needs to be done really well to work. There is something to be said about a really well written "shocking" opening storyline then to leave the reader wanting to know how on earth the story led to this.

    I just need to stress however that it must be written very well.

    I know a movie is not a comparison, but have you ever seen "Eye for an eye" with Sally Field and Keifer Sutherland? They used the same "shock" at the beginning of the movie, which rocked me to my core and left me speechless and in tears in the theatre. To be honest, however, the rest of the movie lost it for me. They were unable to build up to a decent climax to close off the story. That would be my fear in a novel setting as well.

    Ok, off my soapbox! LOL.

    In the end, if it inspires you, write it. We are all here to give you our thoughts, but it is YOUR book and you must be happy with it. End of.

    Happy writing ~ let us know how it goes!! :)
     
  16. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, whether something is too big or too small is always rather subjective. Whether a beginning is too big likely depends on the follow-up. Not all readers would put down a book with a slow start either. Whether the beginning is too far in any one direction would likely depend on how it fits with the rest of the book.

    Starting a book off with too big a bang could leave the reader feeling like they were plopped in the middle of the story where characters they don't care about are being placed in peril and killed. It can be done right, certainly. But it can also be done very wrong. And if the followup doesn't match, one can easily argue that it's too big of a bang.
     
  17. Radrook
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    Radrook Contributing Member

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    The classic novel: "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne which begins simply by describing people and the scenery and then gradually increases the drama's intensity provides an excellent example of what you just said.
     
  18. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, a story needs to build up from the start all the way to the finish and end with a big climax. But at the same time, the beginning should always be interesting enough to draw the reader in. There are far too many books out there for one person to read, and your story competes with no only all the other books, but all other forms for entertainment as well. Why would I read the story rather than watch TV? Why would I read it rather than hang out with my friends? That's what the intro needs to do. A woman going insane sounds interesting, and I just might continue reading. Besides, "Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy" started with the entire planet being destroyed. Just saying, ;)
     
  19. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm also interested to see an actual example of a story that starts off with "too big a bang".
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. I've been thinking about it a bit more, and I just don't see it. If you fail to live up to the opener afterward, then that's another issue.
     
  21. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My opinion, and it's a highly debatable one, is that for a first time unpublished writer it's to your advantage to "start off with a bang."

    A bang does not mean a petrol bomb going off or the assassination of a president. It simply means conflict. It's a matter of the first page having some sort of conflict as opposed to simply building the platform for conflict to be introduced later. Sure, some stories that started slow and mundane are quite brilliant. But remember agents seldom request whole manuscripts. They request the first five pages or the first chapter or the first three chapters, and they can stop reading at any time. The only page of your submitted partial you can be guaranteed they will read is the first one.

    So yes starting with a bang is in your best interest. And yes, the rest of your manuscript not living up to the first chapter is an entirely separate issue...
     
  22. Show
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    Right now I can't think of a story that starts off with too little of a bang that isn't bad all around. (Can't think of either extreme today, but maybe that's because I only follow stories that sound good.) And it would all be subjective as well. Just about every story example I've seen as excellent ways to start with a bang would have me putting the book down. Everyone always says that "starting with a bang doesn't mean starting with an explosion." Well, if it's impossible to have too big a bang, why not just start every book with an explosion? lol (Or hacking a family to death at the end of your first chapter? lol ;) )

    If you can start with too little, you can start with too much. If you drop me down in the middle of a conflict and I am not made to care, then I stop reading. The problem I have with starting with conflict is that if I don't give a damn, it doesn't mean much.

    IMO, one should be less focused on the bang and more focused on the story.
     
  23. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my opinion, if you're not starting your book with some sort of conflict, you're not starting in the right place. But everything you've said is correct, Show.

    It's all about writing the break-in novel. If your novel requires a pedestrian beginning for the plot to progress naturally, I fear it's not ideally suited to be a break-in novel.
     
  24. Show
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    The problem I have with this is that it seems to be begging a "break-in" novel to be subpar and showy. I also think not "starting" with a conflict doesn't mean everything is all sunny until Page 30 either. I can't say that it's not the right place if it's not in the throws of a conflict. IMO, that always makes me feel like I came into the movie late.
     
  25. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here's a friendly challenge to you, Show. Find me a novel from a debut author published in the past two years( with a major publishing house of course) that has a first page completely devoid of some element of conflict. Bonus points if it's a fantasy.
     

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