How NOT to Begin by Christine Duncan

safehouse1 I think as writers we can all agree, beginnings are hard. You have to let the reader know the setting, the time period, the weather and the time of year. You need to reveal setting and voice, introduce the hero, make the genre obvious, and oh yeah, kick off the plot. It’s hard.
But I can tell you what, as a reader, I hate. This week I opened two books, and pretty soon after, shut them back up to never read again. The first book had twelve pages of exposition before there was any dialog. The reader was inside the heroine’s head and she seemed very likeable. I wasn’t even impatient for the first, oh, five pages. After that, it was just another data dump. I thought it was finally over when I hit a real scene with dialog but it lasted only half a page and then, a quick flip through the book revealed that it wasn’t getting better any time soon.
The second book did a better job. It started with exposition in the heroine’s head but the writer quickly put her in a scene. But it soon became obvious that the writer thought I, the reader, was clueless so in order to make sure I missed nothing, she spelled everything out in exposition interspersed throughout the scene. So instead of showing me a tense fight between a rookie cop and a retired veteran, she told me. Instead of showing me how the rookie looked up to the veteran, she told me. Instead of…never mind, I trust you get it. I shut that book after about fifteen pages although I had been looking forward to reading it, based on the synopsis.
I think the writers I like the most are those who trust their readers. They make up whole languages, and figure I’ll get it, sooner or later. And I do. They show alien planets as backdrops to thrilling scenes that reveal character and what the point of the book is, and they figure I’ll understand.
I don’t have any shortcuts to tell you about how to do this. If beginnings are hard, middles can be too and let’s not even talk about endings. Write and write some more.


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