We've been having this discussion on the Crime Thru Time list. Some historical mystery authors prefer to unfold their book slowly, telling about the weather, describing the setting, revealing the players, and then several chapters in--boom! There's a body. It was my contention that, One: most of these authors have been published for quite a few years and this was accepted practice when they started publishing. Now, agents and editors seem to expect a little more movement, a snappier beginning to get to the story sooner. And Two: that there certainly isn't any one way to drop the body into the plot. Because I'm writing a "Medieval Noir", my pace is considerably faster than other medieval mysteries and the body shows up usually in the first chapter. I don't feel the need to let the reader get comfortable with the setting and characters first. Let them sweat it out with the protagonist. Let it unfold for the reader just as it unfolds for him. Let them absorb the setting as the story progresses.

What about you? When does your body show up? Are the demands of the publishing industry a factor for you in this? Or is it strictly writing style or even a product of the genre in which you write?

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I think it depends on a lot of factors. Today it generally sooner rather than later, but I can think of many reasons - including those you noted and others - why the body might not show up for while. Too many things to into that decision for there to be a hard and fast rule.
Two reviewers of my unpublished novel recommended moving the body from the top of page three to bottom of page one. Both had versions of "why" that revolved around starting with the most exciting/dangerous thing to hook agent/publisher/reader.
Good question.

I think readers need action from the start - period. There are some people who will stick with pages upon pages of descriptive set-up before anything happens, but they are rare and they do not drive the publishing industry. However - that doesn't mean you need a body on page one, and it doesn't mean you can't use descriptive language to set up your environment. I think of Ruth Rendell. She goes to great lengths to describe her surroundings and her characters. And yet, these descriptions are active. They build suspense, they build atmosphere and they... well... they get into your bones. She can make the description of a park bench seem like the most menacing threat to humanity in the world!

So, I agree with you that there is no need to sit the reader down with a glass of lemonade and a discussion about the whether before blowing their brains out with semi-automatic. Get right to it. Hook the reader with tension and activity. But, at the same time, don't be afraid to bring your reader into the world of the characters. To me, it's all about building atmosphere and engaging the reader into believing they are part of the world you are describing.

Anyway, these are my thoughts for what they're worth. :)
I think it sort of has to do with the type of story too. Most cozies are slow burners :)
And I think that many historicals--at least those of the past--are too. But for me, that's what I found irritating about many of the historicals I have read. They start off waaay too slow. For a gangbuster of an opening chapter, I recommend Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda. Action, atmosphere, character. It's got it all. It can be done. That's why I chose to write a "medieval noir". I wanted all that, too. I guess my editor agreed.
I'm totally with you and don't read cozy historicals for that reason. (I hardly ever read any sort of cozy.) But the fact is that you (and I) have an uphill battle finding readers among the regular group of Crime-thru-Time fans.

I've already posted on their site -- not that anyone agreed with me -- but a novel must not be restricted to either concept, and it must not be weighted down with extraneous historical detail. If a body in the first few pages suits a story, fine. If not, then that is fine, too. I've usually weaseled out of the predicament by putting the crime in the prologue, but one of my novels didn't need a prologue -- not because it has a body in the first chapter, but because the protagonist, a man who's recently lost his only son, finds an abandoned boy who is mute. That seemed to me sufficiently interesting for people to want to read on.

But I agree on another account also. I don't write noir, but I do use violence and my mysteries resemble thrillers more than the common run of historical mysteries with their leisurely introduction of characters and their relationships. Will look for your books and Arruda's.

(Come to think of it, Jeri. I think you read one of my books and liked it. Many thanks. That was much appreciated.)
My first chapter is all about the bod. The body is warm at the beginning -- alive, in other words -- but it's usually dead meat by the end, or well on its way thereto. Yes, it's partly the pressures of the industry. But in my case, it's also my own predisposition. I guess I've watched too many television crime stories. I'm addicted to the hook, and in these days of competition -- there's really good competition out there folks! -- I feel better starting my story out with a bang. Otherwise, I bore myself. :-)
That's it in a nutshell. It comes down to "what kind of book do I want to read." And then writing it.
I was thinking about this in relation to my own writing and discovered that the bodies arrive very quickly in my novels, yet arrive much, much later in my short stories. Odd. I would have guessed the opposite.
When does the body show up? The earlier the better, unless the author has a reason for delaying it. In general, it should show up in the first chapter, but an author has the keep the reader enthralled with something else if the body doesn't show up early.
I totally agree with you, Jon. In one of my books, a body doesn't appear until half way through the book. There is a lot going on before then to maintain suspense and the body comes as a shock to the reader.

You're method is too calculating and artificial for me. It sounds like you want to try to force the reader to be interested in your story rather than letting the story speak for itself and develop naturally.


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