Wrestling with the pace of the beast - how do you balance thought versus action?

I finished my latest mystery and felt good that I'd been able to keep it at 90,000 words (my first novel was (until revised) 110,000 words.  When I went back to revise my draft I realized I'd started Chapter 1 with my murder vic thinking about a wrong he'd committed against his best friend and, in fact, being alone in a fire tower (where he is murdered by being burned alive), trying to figure out how to make things right. 


I like the beginning (it's only one section - about four paragraphs), but I became worried .  I'd set up my novel's main conflict in this section, but in this section everything was happening inside my vic's head.  No matter how I tried, and oh did I ever try, the story had to shake down with this beginning.  



  1. Is beginning the first chapter this way, inside the character's head instead of having my character engaged in action, less exciting for readers?  
  2. Specifically, does beginning a novel this way slow pacing?
  3. Do you have/have you had a similar (and quite frustrating) experience?    

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It sounds fine to me.  How it actually works depends on how it's written and how long it goes on.  I haven't done precisely the same thing, though one of my prologues has a blind murder victim walking to her death, and all of it happens in her head.
Thanks, I.J.  The opening with the conflict setup in my victim's head only goes on for two paragraphs, but the chapter is probably about five pages long.  I did quite a bit of wrestling with whether or not to put the murder in the prologue, just as you have done, and gave that up, too.  In which novel do you have the blind murder vic walking to her death?  I'd be interested in seeing (pun intended) - LOL! - how you handle this issue.  It has given me absolute fits.
Given the length of the section described, I can't imagine anyone would object.

Dana, nobody better object.  :-)


Seriously, I've worked that sucker over so many times I can't stand to read it now. 


I hope the next novel's beginning isn't this psychologically damaging to me. 

Degree of difficulty issue. An action scene, or crime scene, is of course the easy way to go, interior monologue the hard way. But it can be riveting if you got the skilz...

True, true, true, Eric.  I struggle with this a lot - not sure why.  By now, I should have the issue under control.  I'm going to leave it where it is, though, and see what happens.  So far, in critique groups, no one has complained about the interior monologue: I've tried to make it riveting . . . so we'll see.  I stuck to the rules in my first suspense novel, but I wanted to do this one "my way."  Heh!  I might be in for it, though. 
Now I wanna play some Sinatra ...
Eric, they call me "Ol' Brown Eyes."  :-)

My opinion:

Today's reader decides on a book very quickly.  One paragraph maybe or maybe just the title.  Chapter One has to be really good.   I believe Chapter One has several jobs to do.

1.  Grab the reader immediately

2. Introduce the core conflict

3. Introduce the main character (at least by name.  Ex:  Lt. Theng-a-jeg says, "Call Jones, he's he only one who can solve something like this.)

4. Throw the reader head first into the action.

5. Make you want to read Chapter 2.


I think backstory is better introduced in later chapters.  


To answer your question without benefit of reading your chapter.  It sounds boring.  And that is the greatest sin we, as writers, can commit.  We must thrill them to get them to Chapter 2.


My opinion, hope it isn't too harsh.


Agree with #1 and #5


Would agree with #2 if it read "Introduce SOME conflict" because there's such a thing as bridging conflict, which can satisfy the reader until the core conflict is introduced.


#3 would be nice, but it's not essential. Most novels that open with a prologue, for example, don't introduce the main character in it.


And #4 strikes me as the most formulaic of the bunch. How many classic novels would we have to toss out if this rule was a requirement? As for contemporary novels, I could point to a lot of mysteries that open without action. Thrillers generally do open with action, though. Maybe this is a genre issue.

On board with you on this, Eric.  Especially since my guru, Donald Maass, really touts "bridging conflict."  But the main conflict does have to be there, on page one, don't you think?  Or some call it the "inciting incident" to the main conflict.  I'm okay with that: I think I have that covered.  I'm just incredibly jittery about starting out with that interior monologue. 
Nah, your comments aren't too harsh, but thanks for being concerned.  I agree with everything you've said, and believe me, I've truly "wrestled with this beast," as I said.  I still have to get more input on the beginning.  I'm heading to a Donald Maass workshop in September, so I'm sure I'll get a much harsher critique then, and I'm looking forward to that. 


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