The theme of this blog is “Learn from My Mistakes.”
I just wanted to emphasize that. I don’t want anyone to think that my advice posts here are because I am an expert in the field of writing and publishing, because I am not. Almost all the things I am advising you not to do here are because I did them already, and found out they don’t work. I’ve warned you about the proper point of view, using outlines, why you should not use prologues, and other obvious writing rules that aren’t so obvious.
So today let’s discuss another bit of advice that I just had hammered into me: Starting your story in the middle.
I’ve always known that it is important to start your story with a bang, and all my books and short stories have done so. You want to grab the reader in the first page, and keep those pages turning. I jump right in and fill in the background later.
I know that.
However, there was something I was missing that, in retrospect, seems really obvious to me now.
I just received two rejections from agents looking at my latest manuscript BLOODSUCKERS. Both said the same thing. They liked my writing, but there was no urgency — the story didn’t grab them quick enough.
And they were right.
You see, I started the story off with a beautiful naked vampire killing a Presidential candidate on the eve of his nomination (sex! violence! politics!). Soon after, a new candidate was chosen who was accused of being a vampire by crazies (called “batties”) who actually believe vampires exist. This was followed by a conspiracy to assassinate that candidate, and a plan to frame the assassination on a disgraced reporter who had written an article about the crazies. Then the plan is carried out …
Well, do you see the problem?
The main character in this story is the reporter — the guy who is framed for the assassination and then has to go into hiding, running from the vampires and the FBI. Once that happens, the story kicks into high gear. The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving that vampires exist. He gets help from the batties and eventually from some other vampires. Can he expose the candidate, will he be killed along the way, or will he be corrupted by the system?
But that doesn’t happen until page 60 or so.
I mistakenly thought that all the other action was sufficient — that the conspiracies and plots would be enough.
The problem is that these early threats and dangers all concern people other than my main character … there’s not even the suggestion that he will be involved until the assassins pick him to be their scapegoat. That early stuff didn’t matter personally to him. The “middle” of my story is actually the start of the story for my character. And that’s where I needed to begin.
So it’s time for a new draft. I need to get the reader to understand the danger my protagonist is in early, so that the reader has some connection to the story and cares.
So learn from my mistakes — it’s not enough to have lots of action, drama, and “tension on every page” early on. You need to connect that tension to your protagonist if you want your reader to care.