Sunday, 17 October 2010

Come In, Sit Down and Get On With It.

I was looking at a student's novel the other day, which starts with some long descriptive passages including a was all good background, but I suggested the story really got underway with Chapter 3, when we see the two main characters in action, and then being presented with a major problem for them both at the end of that chapter.

He defended his choice, and then I defended my suggestion. What had happened at the start of our session, I asked. Did he come to my office, and I told him all about my previous history, starting with where I was born and how many brothers and sisters I have? Or did he come in, sit down and then we got on with discussing his work, with the sketchiest of introductory pleasantries?

Stories need to start with the characters coming in and getting on with it, whatever it may be. There's no need to know anything about their background, and if a particular bit of information becomes necessary, then you just put it in as and when it's needed.

Come in, sit down and get on with it. It's that simple.


Tania said...

Great advice. V. hacked off that your talk at Guildford BF is sold out! Would have loved to have attended. Just published my first novel on Kindle (fed up of waiting for publisher!)

Jan Sprenger said...

I totally agree with this.

A writer I much admire, read the opening chapters of mine and advised I drop the first two and get straight into the action. She was absolutely right and the beginning was better for the edit.

Later, another reader said, 'I think you need to set the story up more...that dialogue with her best friend at the end of chapter one, would be better at the beginning.'

Which is exactly where it was before I did the edit! However, I believe the first reviewer was right, which I guess supports the theory that what suits one person doesn't suit another.

In the end, I think you have to listen to your inner voice, filter criticism, and do what feels right to you.

Sarah Duncan said...

Hi Tania, sorry the talk's sold out and good luck with the Kindle novel, hope it sells well.

Jan, it's always difficult when you get different advice but I agree, you have to go with your gut feeling - and also decide whose opinion you go along with, friends want to be helpful and supportive but they're not always the best judges for what works in the 'real' world.

badas2010 said...

I've just dropped the first two chapters of my previous novel and none of the information crammed in there was needed in the rest of the book!
We live and learn.
God damn it.

Sarah Duncan said...

Strange how so often it's those first two chapters that can go. I think we sometimes need to write ourselves into the book, but the reader doesn't need that settling in time. But oh, how I sympathise with your God damn it.