I keep reading novel excerpts that we exchange on Twitter with fellow writers, and sometimes I'm afraid to comment directly on them because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Hey, I'm a writer too, and I am such a fragile creature, it's not even funny. I stoically listen to critical feedback, laugh it off, and then, when the party is over, I crawl into bedroom and bawl my eyes out. Of course, after about 30 minutes of it, I dry my face off and set to work to make my story better. Today it's my turn to be critical. What I'm seeing over and over and OVER is - the story doesn't start till page 5, or 10, or, worse, 20!
So, please, PLEASE, cut those beginning sluggish pages and GET TO THE STORY ALREADY!!!
You will lose the reader if you don't. I've talked about summarizing your novel in its first paragraph already, so this is along those lines. If you don't grab the reader in the first few pages, the reader is gone. The reader is smart. The reader likes to be smart. Don't tell the reader that the reader is stupid. The reader will get pissed at you and throw your book across the room, or, worse, into the bushes (and who knows WHAT will eat your book there). The reader will figure out the backstory as you go along, but don't bore the reader. It's a big no-no. Grab the reader, hook the reader, make the reader sit on the edge of the seat. THEN, only then, can you take the liberty to stretch it out a bit and slow down. But not before.
Your submission will be rejected if you don't. Ok, on this one, those of you who have been through the process (I haven't yet) can beat me up. Go ahead, do it. I will speculate here, and please PLEASE tell me if I'm wrong. But here is what I'm suspecting. Agents are people too. After they hang their titles at the door and get home, they are like us - readers. And you want to grab them. Yeah, I heard horror stories about the right or the wrong way to write the query letter, etc, etc. It's an art in itself, I get it, and I haven't written mine yet (when I do, I will publicly post it here so you can butcher it). Here is the catch. As far as I know, you have to grab the agent with the query letter, do you not? And what do you grab the agent with? Oh, the summary of your novel, of course, that one line and one paragraph. And where does that lead us? You guessed it, back to the beginning.
It will help you as a writer to not get lost. And it is one hell of a beast to get lost in. I mean, we are talking about 65,000 to 100,000 words. That's A LOT! I've been there when I've looked at my 1st draft and didn't even remember where I started by the time I have finished it. And if you are lost as a writer, where does that leave your reader? Yeah, same place, or worse, because often we as writers don't spell everything out, and the readers can't guess our thoughts, unfortunately, no matter how hard they try. The lesson in this is (and I had to learn it the hard way) - you as the writer are the first to also read your own work, so please take care of yourself. Dive right into your story.
Less introduction means more story. It's not me who said "less is more", and I already mentioned this quote in another blog post, but I will say it again with my own twist. Less introduction means more story. If you are afraid that without enough introduction you won't be able to hook the reader on your story, think again. All you have to do is give it a few quick brush strokes. The reader likes to feel smarter than the author, the reader will fill in the details. Just get on with the story already. We want to know what happens. We want to know who goes where, what happens to them, where they go, what do they do there, etc, etc. Think about the way you tell someone about something exciting. You say: "So we were driving along the street, and then, BAM, there was this old guy standing naked, belly and all, right on the corner where that bakery is, remember?" We're hooked. We want to know who, why, how. Curiously enough, our brain starts throwing out ideas BEFORE we hear the end of the story. You, right now, are wondering, don't you? This is real, by the way, me and my boyfriend saw one today. You can weave a story out of this, could you not? You got your opening line all right, and as readers we're hooked.
Of course none of this is set in stone. And I'm not some genius to tell you what to do. This is simply my latest observation. There are plenty of books that begin with long drawn out introductions, especially the ones that have been written 10, 20, 50 years ago, or more. So feel free to throw your opinion at me in the comments and let's have a friendly fist fight. I'm all for it. I bet you, though, if you read your work after reading this and try, just TRY, to let your gut tell you where the REAL story starts, you might be surprised.