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Clarity on opening a book with "action"

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

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    But the advice assumes you want to write formulaic fiction. Not everyone does. Advice to authors should take into account their goals, not seek to impose them. If a new writer wants to write by formula, then teach them how to do it. If they don't want to write by formula, then help them become more effective writers within the boundaries of their own approach. If they don't know, giving advice that pushes them toward formula writing isn't helpful.
     
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I Agree 100%. Thanks for your response! I have noticed that on fiction forums there does seem to be a bit of a more narrow focus, like you mentioned. Especially on genre forums. But I think that maybe that comes from having a lot of different writers with a lot of different views of what the 'genre' should look like. I think (or hope) from my previous posts over the past month you all can probably say "Heliotrope tends more towards the literary end of the Spectrum. She tends to prefer symbolism and metaphor and low fantastical elements over high fantasy and commercial action." That way, when I chime in on a piece in the showcase, you can think "OK, but Helio has a totally different set of interests, so I can take her thoughts with a grain of salt." On the other end of the spectrum you have Foster, who is very focussed on providing his reader with a fast paced, high energy, commercial action story. If that is what you are writing, then you would probably listen to him over me. Then, we have Nimue, who writes very lovely poetic, free verse, stream of consciousness style pieces. If that is your thing you may ask her for input.

    So like you said, it all depends on our different set if ideas of how to write.
     
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  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I'm not trying to push anyone to any particular place. I'm trying to say, "The people who are making real money in self publishing appear to say that your best choice for achieving financial success is to write formulaic fiction."

    If your primary motivation isn't to make money, then don't follow the advice. If you don't want to self publish, then don't follow the advice.

    Again, my only message here is, "You can make money self publishing. The way to do it is to write by accepted formulas, make sure that your cover, pitch, and sample are good, and build up an email list."

    I am not trying to say that that is the only way to make money. There are a lot of ways to make money. I'm simply saying that that path offers you your best shot at making money.

    I'm not sure why you think that message is a bad one.

    EDIT: Please note why I think my message is so important. When I left this site about a year ago, I did so feeling that writing was kinda pointless because there was no way that any significant numbers of people would ever read my books. And that, more than making money, is my biggest desire - to simply find readers who love what I'm writing. I interpreted that message here as saying over and over, "Don't bother. Publishing is a lost cause because your book will go into a slush pile. Self Publishing? Ha. You'll sell to fifty people, mainly friends and family.

    (A couple of posters, like Michael Sullivan, did offer encouragement, but I felt his voice was drowned in a sea of negativity.)

    After finally finishing my book, I went looking for advice on how to market it even knowing how fruitless it would be. Then Pauline pointed me to kboards, and now I know the truth.

    It's not only possible to find readers; it's likely. There are strategies for writing and there are strategies for marketing.

    So if you want to get your book in front of readers, you can. If you want to sell a bunch, you can. Whatever your goal is outside of crazy success (which is possible at least), you can succeed.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Your method of expression often presents it as an imperative. It's not the message, it's the delivery. I don't think anyone would disagree that writing to formula is an easier way to raise the likelihood of financial success. Much of our media is based around that idea. That's not what everyone is after with their writing, thankfully. We need to have room for a wide diversity.
     
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @BWFoster, just so I'm not misunderstood, I think when it comes to writing the types of stories you are writing, your advice is good and your approach to marketing and self-publishing has been both interesting and useful to follow. So, I'm not saying there is anything bad with the advice you are providing, in context. Quite the opposite, in fact. But, at least in my reading of your posts, you often become narrowly-focused on the approach you've adopted and seem to suggest everyone should follow that route to the exclusion of others. The latter is, in my view, a mistake. The substantive advice itself, in the context of what you're trying to do, is quite good.
     
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  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I guess, from my perspective, you're reading things into my writing that I'm not trying to put there. How much of what your reading is what I'm writing and how much of it is a bias on your part to what you think I'm trying to say?

    When someone says, "Hey, you can't turn writing into a formula."

    I'm going to say, "Sorry, but that's wrong. You absolutely can turn it into a formula, and doing so works financially for a lot of people."

    Then you come along and say, "Why are you telling people they have to write formula?"

    Do you understand my Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment?
     
  7. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    I'm not going to get too into this discussion (because it's verging on off-topic) but will just say (as I've expressed to you in other threads "Blurring" for example) that I'm in full agreement with Steerpike and get the same feel from your posts, so it's not just Steerpike.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Then I ask you the same question I asked Steerpike: how much of that is what I'm actually saying and how much of that is your bias toward what you think I'm saying?

    Take the example above.

    What was it about my response that even implied that writing formulas was the "only" way to do things?

    Do I not clearly state in the original response that it's advocated as the best way to achieve financial success as an indie author?

    If I'm reading you correctly, you don't disagree with that premise. The only way I can figure that one can take that as advice is:

    If one wishes to follow the easiest path to financial success as a self published author, write formulas.

    Am I saying anything different? Is that a bad thing to say?
     
  9. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Well, to kinda bring this back full circle, the O.P. was asking about opening a book with action. Certainly that is one way. Just as certainly there are many others as was discussed in the first couple of pages of this thread. In particular in Fantasy/Myth writing I would think there are any number of ways to open a book including describing landscape or castles etc. and many examples were given early on. None of this was about formula writing in particular or about making money or even about gaining audience, but were responses to the generic question about openings of books (we of course by nature of this site are discussing fantasy/myth and as in the header 'the art of fantasy storytelling').

    As Kipling said,
    "There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
    "And every single one of them is right!"


    I suspect the question has been answered to the satisfaction of the O.P. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  10. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    To take it further back on the circle....I'm still wondering about two things.

    a) Mightn't we be better off thinking of "action" as activity, or active characters, rather than merely the high-energy types of action?

    b) Mightn't we reconsider what constitutes the "opening" of a book?

    Particularly on "b," I'm wondering about those cases where the very first few paragraphs are descriptive telling. Are/can those methods be used successfully for the entirety of the first chapter? Or do most successful books introduce an active character, perhaps even show activity, before the end of Chapter One?

    For instance, Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice was cited earlier in this thread:

    A History of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers. A complete telling would reach back beyond the founding of the First Duchy and, if such names were remembered, would tell us of Outislanders raiding from the sea, visiting as pirates a shore more temperate and gentler than the icy beaches of the Out Islands. But we do not know the names of these earliest forebears.

    Robin Hobb - Assassin's Apprentice, 1995​

    But 1) that's from the introductory material for that chapter (something she includes for all chapters), and 2) after two paragraphs for that intro, the actual chapter material starts with this:

    My pen falters, then falls from my knuckly grip, leaving a worm's trail of ink across Fedwren's paper.​

    —and actually, that introductory material was what he was writing! So we have an active character. But, that character goes on to "tell" much more. I have also wondered (in the "Show, Don't Tell" thread) whether first-person accounts are a little different than 3rd-person accounts; at least, there's an immediacy that gives us a character actively thinking, in Robin Hobb's first chapter.

    So....how long before some sort of activity starts—typically?
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Fifthview, I agree. Especially about what constitutes 'the beginning'.

    So, I have read everything from "the first 250 words" to the first 20 pages!

    Someone referenced the Hobbit, and how that wouldn't fly anymore, but I sort of disagree. Back when Tolkien wrote it no one knew what a Hobbit was, so delving into the living conditions of the Hobbit and describing their lifestyle and their interests would have been very interesting to readers at the time (I think). Nowadays we know all about Hobbits and Dragons and Orcs so we don't have to spend forever explaining them.

    But, If I were introduce a new sort of species or technology it may be valuable (and interesting to the reader) for me to go into a few descriptive narrative paragraphs about how it all works.

    Another, older example I can think of is Huxley's Brave New World. The entire intro is pages and pages of explaining the facility where the babies are created and the entire process used to create people for specific niches in the world. Because it is so new to the reader it works to have it explained in this way.

    Are there other, perhaps more exciting ways to do it? Yes. Probably, but his way is intriguing and gets the job done quickly.

    Sometimes I wonder, and this is just me wondering, if we have tried to make novel writing too much into screen writing? We try to write our novels like they are movies, but they are not movies.
     
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  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Actually, come to think of it, I just read another view that the 'hook' should be in the first 1% of the book. So in a 100 page book that would be the first page, but in a 500 page book it would be the first 5 pages…
     
  13. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I didn't say it wouldn't fly anymore. I meant that for such a popular book it didn't have the most gripping introduction.
     
  14. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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  15. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    I think there's definitely some of that going in various 'how to write' recommendations. :)
     
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  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Oh, sorry Miskatonic, it was a few posts ago, I must have forgotten the context.
     
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    I don't disagree. However, it should still be noted that almost 2 pages are fully exposition and the reader does not know a character is writing that exposition until this opening ends (other than the presence of italics, which could be thought or any number of things).

    That's why I chose to include it, because it offers another technique other than the obvious and often touted "active character" as an opener.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I think we know that it is introductory material, similar to a prologue, because of the italics. The reader knows it is not the "meat" that is coming. When the chapter starts, it starts with action.

    But this goes back to other things I wrote in that comment: What is the "opening" for a novel? I believe that readers are more likely to be drawn to a novel for reasons other than the construction of the first few paragraphs. Coming to the novel, a reader is more likely to suspend judgment for a certain length of time–how long, I don't know–because it's a novel. If the first few paragraphs are simply boring or are written in horrible prose, the reader may not want to continue reading it, however.

    I understand that beginning a conversation by offering an absolute rule and asking about its validity might be a good way to instigate a convoluted conversation as respondents fall on either side of the issue–polemics, so fun!–and the imperative, "Begin with action!" will serve. But I'm more interested in variations on that rule than I am in having it smashed to pieces in the way that absolute injunctions can so easily be smashed.
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    But come to think of it, I think the issue may be more related to immediacy.

    Action might be a "shortcut" to immediacy, in the way that showing rather than telling might be a shortcut.

    But a highly descriptive telling makes what is described seem immediate–I mean, I'm put "there."

    And the sort of comical, gossipy narrative voice of, say, the first Harry Potter novel, makes what is being said seem immediate. It is as if I am standing beside and listening to that gossipy narrator.

    Similarly, a lot of first-person narration seems more immediate, because I'm being spoken to by a narrator who is "there" with me. Or I am there with him.

    And so I wonder if the "rule" to begin with action (or to introduce it rather soon) arose because of this need for a quick immediacy, in our contemporary milieu; perhaps, a misunderstanding of what is truly required.
     
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  20. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yes, Fifthview, I'm starting to come to this conclusion too. I think we have taken the idea of "start in the middle of the action" and sort of changed it from what it originally meant.
     
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