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Clarity on opening a book with "action"

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Miskatonic, Nov 1, 2015.

  1. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    When people advise to make the opening of a book exciting with action, are they talking about literally having an action scene going on, like a car chase for instance; or are they talking about someone doing something in general rather than just a general opening narrative giving the reader some type of introduction to what's going on?

    Like someone could be leaving the house and getting into their car, then driving off to wherever they need to go.

    When I think of action I think of car chases, shootouts, etc.
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    My impression is that it's about starting with something going on. It doesn't have to be the action move kind of action, with fights and explosions - just someone doing something.

    I think the idea behind the advice is to warn away from static openings, with long descriptions or explanation of backstory and such. It's more along the lines of "if you do this, you'll avoid doing this, and this, and this" rather than "do this".
     
  3. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    OK cool.

    I thought it was a bit absurd that they advised writers to have their books start out like an action film.
     
  4. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    The assumption is that a reader will sample the first few lines of an ebook on Amazon and based on that experience, either buy it or keep shopping.

    The same goes for a literary agent reading a query sample.

    Therefore it needs to be interesting and contain a hook.

    There are some very helpful books on how to write hooks.

    Avoid beginning a book with describing the landscape. It's been done to death and no matter how cool your world is, writing about the color of the sky or mist in the trees, etc, will send your manuscript to the slush pile.

    There is also a rising controversy about the need for prologues. I would avoid any prologue that contains 'telling' that leads into info dumping. Or just forget the prologue altogether.

    I think getting the reader into the head of the main character right away can help. Get in there and stay in there with POV as the scene unfolds.

    A really kick ass cover never hurt either. Fantasy is a visual experience too.
     
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  5. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    This is as misleading as "show don't tell."

    All that's really required by the opening is to intrigue and interest the reader such that they 'turn the page' and keep reading.
     
  6. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

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    No, they mean action action. Like a James Bond movie. Start with your protagonist doing something in character, that is, showing his primary trait. Like James infiltrating an Russian army base. James is doing something quintessential to his character, spying.
     
  7. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    But not necessarily. I can think of tens of thousands of literary fiction or chick lit novels that don't start out like James Bond. Like perhaps "Confessions of a Shopaholic" or "The Trouble with Our Stars" or "Bridget Jone's Diary".

    I think the same can be said for fantasy. Look at the intro for "American Gods." (I use this example all the time because I like it). Shadow is literally lying around in prison practicing coin tricks waiting to get out. But the hook is there, the characterization is there, the author poses questions that the reader wants answered.

    I agree with MineOwnKing and Kennyc that a good hook (Make the reader ask some questions and read on to find answers) is what is really important.

    I'm sort of starting to understand that "starting in the middle of some action" means start at a point in the story, with a focus on a character doing something, instead of:

    "Once upon a time there was a boy named Sam. Sam grew up in England with his mother and his father. He had blue eyes and brown hair…." Etc.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    The opening needs to be interesting. Doesn't matter how you accomplish it - action, mystery, plot hook, the prose itself, &c.
     
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  9. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    The Hobbit certainly had a unique and yet not overly exciting introduction.
     
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  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    This...

    I'll also add that you should spend some time thinking about your story's true beginning. Typically, the advice I cling to is to start your story as late into the tale as you can. Following that advice usually brings action and/or the interesting/engaging parts to the fore.
     
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  11. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Yep! Agreed. Always good advice.
     
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  12. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

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    I didn't say a good story had to start with action. What I said was that when somebody says a story should start with action, they mean action; not description; not even a conflict. They mean somebody, usually the protagonist, doing action.
     
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  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Got it. That makes sense. I thought when you said "action, action. Like James Bond" you meant car chases and shoot outs etc. I understand what you mean now.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    There are phenomenal books that start with description, but they adhere to the idea that the opening has to be interesting.
     
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  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, again, I like the idea that the intro should pose a question to the make reader keep reading to find answers…

    Some concrete examples I have read are:

    Making someone do something out of character, like have a little old lady standing next to the MC in the library pull a gun out of her purse.

    Or, put someone in danger, but don't explain why: Like, have the cute/sweet waitress at the restaurant be pulled into the break room to see on the news that a killer is murdering other women in the town with the same name as her (The Terminator).

    Basically, pique the reader's curiosity.

    Other examples of questions:

    What scary reptillian monster killed the worker? (Jurassic Park)

    Examples of first lines that make the reader ask a question:

    "I am the invisible man"

    "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."

    "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
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  16. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    I heard an author, I think it was Brandon Sanderson, say that what he means by this is showing the MC being proactive, rather than reactive. Show the MC as doing something.

    So maybe rather than have the old lady pull out a gun, have the MC notice something off about her, and then she pulls the gun.
     
  17. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Everything seems so much easier when you aren't working with a fantasy story with dozens of characters and multiple interwoven plots. Yes there is an MC, but he's like 9 and at the beginning of the book is on his quaint Ireland-esque island, blissfully ignorant of what lies before him.

    I'll work on an intro. and then toss it in here to see if I'm headed in the right direction.
     
  18. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Woo-hoo!




    .
     
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Opening to Titus Groan. Brilliant. Particularly love the last two lines. Not even a character introduced unless you consider the castle a character in its own right, which some have argued:

    Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping earth, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.
     
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  20. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Steerpike, so awesome… again to make my point, so many questions raised in my mind!

    What's up with the tower? Is it empty? What was it used for? Why are only owls in it now? Why 'blasphemously', did something bad happen there? Does the pointing to heaven actually represent someone inside pointing at heaven, accusingly?
     
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