What's wrong with a kiss, boy? Hmm? Why not start her off with a nice kiss? You don't have to go leaping straight for the clitoris like a bull at a gate. Give her a kiss, boy.
--from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Probably some of the best writing advice I'v ever heard.

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Right. Far too many novels start with a bang and peter out quickly. :)

This is due to some of the rules set for aspiring mystery writers (the first sentence is crucial! The body must be in the first chapter! The first thirty pages are all an agent or editor looks at! etc.)
I agree, I.J. The most skillful books I come across often break all the so-called rules.
I completely agree. It is not really a problem to begin a novel or a story by making the reader feel like they're on a wild ride, but it is very difficult to keep up that kind of pace throughout. Here and there you can stick in something exciting maybe, but somehow, nothing ever really tops the beginning and the reader ends up putting it down and rarely picks it up again. I know. I've tossed books like that, having never gotten past Chapter 4 or 5. If I finish a book, then it had to have held my interest, and I will donate it to my library. Maybe it wasn't a best seller, but it was worth finishing, so I'll try to share it. But ones that aren't worth the effort of turning a page belong in the dumpster. No offense to the writer, but in my opinion, they should have seen that one coming. I'm no Stephen King, but even I can tell when one of my stories is on a downhill slide.

Students and beginners need to be taught to begin with something that will peak the reader's interest, yes. But, then flesh out the event(s) and the character(s), and keep the story's momentum going. Some think that one thrill after another is what makes an exciting story, but I don't think that's true, since stories like that turn out where the thrills get less and less related to each other and you lose the plotline and..., before you know it, it's dumpster time.

The best advice I ever got from a teacher was so simple it doesn't even seem like it would help anybody, but I will always be grateful for it. She told me whenever I write something, make sure when it's finished, that it turns out to be something I would enjoy reading through to the end. I wonder how many writers out there actually 'read' their own work, and I'm not talking about editing or anything like that. I'm talking about simply sitting down and reading it. Sure made a tremendous difference for me.
Yeah, I get weary with thrillers that try to go balls-to-the-wall from start to finish, Crimewriter.
I disagree. That may have been true in 1968 but it was also shocking and risque and it's not anymore.

The problem for me with the starting with a bang is that it then peters out into 250 pages of boring foreplay I can pretty much skip to get to the big ending.

The main reason I stop reading books these days is that they're all foreplay. Too many books, for my tastes, finish where I think they should start. Finally, they're starting to get interesting, stuff is happening, real emotional challenges are being faced, there are some deeper questions and then, boom, it's over.

Stop teasing me.
Maye the most discouraging thing I heard at Bouchercon this year was how many writers won't give a book more than a few pages before giving up on it. I hope they were looking more at quality of writing than in car crashes and bloodshed right away, but they didn't say.

I like a book that draws me in. It can do it quickly, or it can take its time, but books that begin with the volume at 10 have no place to go unless they adopt the Spinal Tap system and add an 11. (Because it's one more, idn't it?)
Yes, I would imagine they were talking about quality of writing. It doesn't have to be action at all. But yes, there has to be something right off the bat that hooks me. It's most often the voice for me, how things are told not so much what is told.

It's amazing how many of Elmore Leonard's novels begin with character background - at random I just looked at Get Shorty, it opens with quite a few paragraphs about how Chili Palmer came to be a wiseguy in Florida with his Brooklyn connections. Tishomingo Blues opens with the background of the high diver, Dennis Lenehan, how he's tired of working amusement parks because he can't stand the music they play. Even though there's no action, certainly no car crashes or bloodshed or anything like that, I wouldn't call it foreplay. These openings go right to the heart of the characters and puts them in conflict right away (inner conflict, but that's the best kind if you ask me, they are their own obstacles).

I say start at the beginning, never before the beginning.

And you know, if you can crank it up to eleven, wll then you should, you should always aim to be England's Loudest Band.
Get Shorty is my favorite Leonard, and it's an excellent example of what I think both our points are. The beginning is about Chili's background and his coat, for crying out loud. Seriously, who gives a shit about his coat? But it's so damn much fun to read, I don't care what happens, I just want to see what it is.

Now that I think about it, that must be what they meant. I know that's what does it for me. It doesn't matter so much what happens, or doesn't, at the beginning. I'm making up my mind about whether I want to spend several hours in this world. The more readable a story is, the more I'm willing to overlook in other areas. If it's not an engaging read (not to say humorous or even entertaining) then it doesn't matter to me how good the story is.
That's a good way to put it, Dana. A story must be engaging in some way for us to even want the foreplay. Lipstick on a pig just don't cut it. Unless you're really drunk, of course.
Right on, Dana. Fun to read. That's what matters to me. Jennie Crusie calls it "fascinating characters doing interesting things." I love mysteries and thrillers, but I can and do read all kinds of things because they entertain me.
I say start at the beginning, never before the beginning.

Absolutely, John. But, you know, there's foreplay, and then there's foreplay. The big O is what we ultimately crave, but we should enjoy all the foot massages (I'm the foot fucking master, btw. I don't be ticklin or nothin) and nipple nibbling and buttocks kneading along the way.
Are you admitting that you're a premature literary ejaculator, Jon?


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