Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Begging My Beginning To Be Benign

So, you passed up tons of opportunities that came your way, whether social, academic, or occupational, because your number one love, your main squeeze, shrieked from within the pit of your guts to the apex of your irregular cranium, "DUDE! I'LL NEVER GET WRITTEN IF YOU DO ANY OF THAT!" And you asked yourself, do I want my life to be about carrying on the constructs that other people see as the parameters of life? Or, do I want it to be about exploring the uncharted depths of myself, and sharing my discoveries in a way that gives the finger to those artificial barriers and inspires many to do the same?

Then, of course, you went with Option B, cast your undivided attention day after day onto that cruelly gratifying mistress in your head, breathed realistic life and triumph into characters that began as fragile bundles of excitement in 8th grade homeroom, and now, long after typing THE END (drum roll) ...you've got to go back to the beginning! Bet you're feeling kind of foolish, right? Wrong! -ish

A common pitfall for debut fantasy novelists, one that tripped me up quite a bit, is that their first three chapters serve more as a platform to launch the actual story, instead of beginning the story where it naturally ought to, on Page God Damn 1. "Oh, I've created such a complex, intriguing world--this is all the necessary information you absolutely must digest before we proceed," said Sweatychin Basementguy, whose work I've yet to hear any buzz about.

Dynasties rose and fell to set the events of your story in motion; formidable warriors clashed and befriended one another, and then clashed again; there are cities with ornate names and varying purposes that just made us forget the names of characters you briefly introduced, in whom we weren't even invested to begin with. Now we're on pg. 20, and the intricate character development depicted on Storage Wars is making us reach for the remote while using your pages as a beer coaster.

Some authors who are just starting out will dump all of this onto readers in dense paragraphs of exposition, evoking the fear of a textbook-style quiz at the end of every chapter that even an all-nighter of cramming wouldn't help. Others who've learned from this mistake will try to trim what they can part with while veiling the remaining need-to-know factoids in dialogue or stream of consciousness, flattening their characters' authenticity from the get-go. Then come those who don't give enough information because they're still cringing in shame at being part of the aforementioned clubs, leaving readers wondering what the hell happened to the would-be protagonist from Chapter One, and when are we coming back to him?

There's nothing wrong with a slow beginning or a complex introduction to characters and setting, as long as the reader is immediately drawn in to experience it, and not pelted in the head with the ricocheting tiles you thought you'd cemented into a colorful mosaic. The trick is to give your audience an elegant doorway through which they can travel, and let them gradually take in the unfurling complexities you've set in store for them. Don't drop a labyrinth in front of them with signs posted everywhere that read, "The middle and end of this are great if you can make it."

No comments:

Post a Comment