As soon as I read this article I checked my unfinished manuscripts and made some fast corrections!
Castle Gate Press editor Phyllis Wheeler has some excellent advice:
"New writers are often tempted to explain everything at the beginning
of a book. It seems to make sense. The reader will want to know where
the protagonist comes from, what makes him tick, and so on. So why not
just tell him, up front?
The problem is that the reader doesn’t care yet about your
protagonist. Nothing has grabbed the reader’s emotions. It’s like when
you first meet someone. If this person sat you down and started naming
off her grandparents, uncles, and aunts, you’d politely excuse yourself.
Have you compared the beginning of a current published book with one that’s forty or fifty years old? One of the things that might jump out at you is that stories nowadays
start off, like movies do, with someone in the middle of something. In
writer-craft speak, that’s using the technique called “in media res,”
Latin for “in the middle of things.”
Authors from previous eras often wander into the tale, like a
fireside storyteller starting out the yarn with a bit of background. “In
a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.” “It is a truth universally
acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be
in want of a wife.” Readers were happy with these beginnings. But the
immediacy of film, and its prevalence in our culture, has changed
consumer expectations for novels.
Movies, you may have noticed, usually start off with a bang these
days. Something is exploding, shattering. Or hurtful words are spoken.
Novels, too, are most compelling if the first scene explodes off the
page. Your protagonist is in a situation that gets the reader’s
attention in a big way. There’s no storyteller doing “telling.” Instead,
it’s the scene unfolding, with the author showing.
What if it’s not an intense kind of book? A sweet read? You still
must draw the reader in by showing a scene with unnamed details that
intrigue. Resist the urge to explain!"
Rita Stella Galieh is an Australian author of two published historical romances.
Her last novel, Signed Sealed Delivered is an ebook available on Amazon