1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Clarity on opening a book with "action"

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

  1. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    Once upon a time this kind of opening might have been okay.

    Modern writing has evolved and is also a slave to corporate decisions that manage publishing houses.

    Now, if you want to win the love of an agent, publisher, consumer, even if you wrote the greatest literary fantasy ever this way, chances are it's going to the trash.
     
  2. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    529
    184
    43
    I disagree completely.
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    While I understand the argument regarding modern trends in literature & corporate influences, I don't agree completely. For most writers, this is probably true. However, a writer with enough skill (like Peake in 1940-1950s) would still find a place and a following in today's market.

    I hear a lot about the "modern reader". As I became more & more serious about writing, I initially bought into the idea that modern readers don't like the older styles, but I grew to question that thinking. After all, I'm a modern reader and I love that opening, which goes against the standard, modern advice of not opening with description. Considering the book is still widely read, how can it be that "modern readers" don't like this style?

    Your opening, just as the rest of your story, simply needs to be interesting. There are a multitude of ways the achieve that effect. None of them should be off the table.
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
    Heliotrope and kennyc like this.
  4. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,952
    982
    113
    You are correct about the agents and publishers. But not about consumers. Yes, there are consumers who will only settle for modern cinematic style writing. But they are by no means all. Readers will buy anything that is interesting to them. And there are infinite ways to interest readers. The truth is that you can't turn book appeal into a formula. If you could then all published books would be hits, but they're not. Not by a long shot. Agents and publishers don't know what will sell anymore than the random man on the street does.

    Personally (and by no means am I presenting myself as a representative of readers as a whole, rather an example of how varied readers are), I cannot stand the modern cinematic "start it with action!" approach. Nothing interests me so little as throwing me into the middle of some type of action when I don't yet know the characters or the setting and have no context for the thing. I just end up not caring and tossing another book aside. These days I can tell by the opening sentence if the writing is going to be boringly cinematic. Most recently written books apply. I've learned to seek refuge in classics instead.
     
    Miskatonic and Heliotrope like this.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    3,080
    1,844
    163
    This is generally how I feel.


    I don't know, I think if something is good enough, it's good enough. It just has to be interesting enough to make the reader keep reading. I mean just take a look at the opening two paragraphs of Harry Potter. Not exactly action packed, but there's enough to make one keep going.

     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,291
    3,698
    413
    Me too. In fact, that book is still on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.
     
  7. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    Nostalgia for classic fiction is addictive and rewarding, The Heart of Darkness has one of the greatest openings of any novel. It was written in a time when the fan base would have been wealthy English gentry.

    Ask a typical person on the street that was forced to read Heart of Darkness for high school English and they will probably relay how much they hated it.

    That is one reason why writing must evolve.

    Modern day genre fiction has been altered to cater to its largest fan base, females.

    95% of literary agents are women.

    I don't want to cast any stones here so I'll let people use their imaginations as to how these facts have changed the industry standards.

    Probably not very many guys are buying 'Bear needs a Bride."
     
  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,952
    982
    113
    The only people Heart of Darkness is a classic to are literature majors/professors (same thing). Gormenghast, on the other hand, is a classic because readers keep recommending it to each other and passing it on from generation to generation. As much as I personally dislike the book, I must give it credit where credit is due. It fascinates readers. Though the opening is one of the worst I've ever read, personally. Obviously that isn't true for many people. Once again, readers are a highly varied group of individuals.

    I think what you need to do is evolve your understanding of the world of storytelling and book publishing past the outmoded ideas of the "industry". They're losing market share every day to the people who really know how to connect with readers: the indie authors.
     
  9. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    I don't need to do anything.

    Miskatonic asked a question and I tried to help.

    I am an indie author. I could care less about what agents want.
     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,952
    982
    113
    I see. You're giving pretty strange advice then.
     
  11. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    Don't shoot the messenger.

    What I want has nothing to do with the facts of successful marketing.

    What was successful in the past no longer applies.
     
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    A quick perusal of my digital library shows your assumption to be shaky at best. Consider the following fantasy openings, none of which start with action:
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  13. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    I wrote nothing about starting with action.

    I said it should be interesting and contain a hook.
     
  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    Apologies then. It seemed your position was against descriptive beginnings like Peake's opening of Gormenghast...that it was outdated and therefore would not be successful with modern publishers. Perhaps I was wrong.

    Still, there is not a "hook" in any of those openings, at least not in the sense that most contemporary advice touts as necessary.
     
  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,662
    1,952
    163
    I would argue, though, that all those intros do have a hook… based on what I've been reading about hooks actually being 'questions'.

    With Strange and Norrell she sets it up so that the magicians are not doing what one would typically think they should be doing, so they read on to find out why.

    With Terry Goodkind's line, we wonder "why was it odd looking? What was so weird about it?" and keep reading to find out. (P.S. side note, can I say how happy I am to see someone quote this book? It was my first fantasy I ever bought myself in eighth grade, before I knew anything about Ayn Rand or any political agenda. I just loved the book for the book. The rest of the series, meh, but I still have a soft spot for this book).
     
    FifthView likes this.
  16. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    621
    182
    43
    My position is irrelevant.

    I like Joseph Conrad along with many classic author's.

    There are always going to be examples that defy the status quo.

    Anybody that has spent time querying agents like I have, knows what I say is fact and not theory.

    Write a book that gets you in the door, or write a crowd pleaser that wins an award, then write the books you want to read.

    'It is useless to push a cart sideways.'
     
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    A Hook is any technique that grabs the reader's attention and keeps them reading. It may be exactly that, a question raised, but it can be anything that piques interest. In that regard, I agree with you. However, the examples don't hook with action or even a character as is commonly advised, which goes back to the original point. Your beginning simply needs to pique interest. There are a plethora of ways to achieve this effect.
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    11,291
    3,698
    413
    There are people writing successful novels that start, and continue, with heavy description and dense use of words. That's just an empirical fact. You can go to the book store and see the books. You just have to be a damned good writer to pull it off. Conrad and others aren't still being read just because they are old. There were plenty of other writers who wrote popular fiction back in those days who have vanished into obscurity. Writers like Conrad and others are still read because they were brilliant authors. I'm reading Emma, by Jane Austen, which will be 200 years old next year. Great book.

    The fact is, most modern commercial authors couldn't write like that if they had to do so to save their lives, and most of the works they are putting out won't be known, much less read, in a hundred years. The writers can put out stuff that sells but they're not capable of writing that lasts. The few authors who can put out works that will come to be classics decades hence can still get published. If someone like Peake or even Conrad were to pop up now, in 2015, I have little doubt they'd be able to find both an agent and a publisher.
     
    T.Allen.Smith and Heliotrope like this.
  19. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    5,541
    2,629
    313
    I guess as with all "writing rules" the thing to take away from it is to stick with if you're uncertain, but that there are countless of great examples of the "rule" not being followed.
     
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,161
    1,151
    163
    I would offer a variation on this.

    Writing rules don't exist to force you to change a part of your work that has a purpose and you feel strongly positive about.

    Writing rules exist to give you guidance when you are unsure of something or to help diagnose and fix problems you are having trouble getting a handle on.
     
Loading...

Share This Page