James R. Strickland has been telling stories since before he could read. After making his career in high tech, he took part in National Novel Writing Month, and in 2004, wrote the first draft of Looking Glass, which was published in 2007. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
I am just reaching the beginning of my plot now, but the first part of my novel seems old and boring, even repetitive. How do you keep the first few chapters of your novel exciting, while also explaining the characters, their lifestyles, and all the other important beginning stuff? — sabrina-wolfheart
I very much suspect that if it’s taking that long to get to the beginning of the plot, you’ve started the story too soon, and you’re spending those chapters on exposition you don’t need. When editing time comes, I’d say chop those chapters off and throw the readers into the plot and let us swim. Readers are smart. We’re good at picking stuff up from context. Trust us. Trust your writing.
If you really must introduce what the norm is for your characters and/or the world before you start, you can use an action scene that throws us into the middle of a climactic incident in their life (which you then never bother to set in context.) If you saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ve seen this. I used it in Looking Glass and Irreconcilable Differences both, and it works very well. Whereas Raiders used it only for character introduction, I tend to stick important details of the story I intend to tell later in these prequel scenes.
I’m oversimplifying and showing my bias here. Some novels do start with a dump-truck full of exposition parked in front of (or on top of) the plot. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaps to mind here. We find out an awful lot about the Vanger family before we cut back to Salander and the story gets moving. It’s important to note, however, that Stieg Larsson was Swedish, and the expectations of how a novel unfolds in other cultures can be quite different. American novels tend to start with the action, just as our movies do.
Next week’s head counselor will be Susan Dennard, whose book, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, hits shelves today! It’s the second in a trilogy blending historical fiction, horror, romance, and mystery.