You have to chuck the right person off the roof

Oxford RoofPhil: As mentioned on Tuesday, we had a bit of a writing sesh last week where The Book received a good reordering.

Much of the feedback from test readers mentioned that we have fallen into the newbie trap of taking up too much valuable reader time setting introducing characters and setting up the story. If I’m honest, while the first third is sublime, we don’t really get stuck in to the story. Having expended a lot of effort in short stories and also analysing other peoples books, we realised that you have to pitch the reader straight in and worry about explaining things later.  To make matters worse, this the three first chapters that are submitted to agents, the very people you need to grab by the throat with your writing.

Some months ago, I had a go at tackling this. Taking a scene midway in the story that only receives a passing mention, I expanded it out with the intention of providing a bit of drama and introducing our main character. The result was (I thought) funny and reasonably dramatic but it didn’t really do it. Despite revolving around someone nearly going over the edge* of a roof, we didn’t feel it was right for the opening.

My choice of start point was partly influenced by a lack of imagination as to how we got back into the main story afterwards. It’s all very well being dramatic but if you cut straight to the chase, the book ends up ten pages long and no one has a clue what lead up to the denouncement. I grabbed an extra scene that was fun but only introduced one person. It simply didn’t do enough.

Candice was braver and picked a different point with someone going over the edge. We don’t do a lot of it, but chucking people from the roof is dramatic and no one can tell me otherwise. By using a single viewpoint we get three main characters introduced quickly and manage to incorporates a mystery element in too. All in just over two pages. Best of all, in our pre-cake rehashing, we worked out how the intro can drop us back in the main story and even use it to make the main character more sympathetic. To be honest, it’s pretty much perfect.

By the time we were looking at coloured cupcake, we were in possession of a plan. This is a relief. I’ve been pondering the problem on and off for a while but while I could see the solution, it always seemed in soft focus. A bit like the world before I put my glasses on in the morning. Now I can see it not just with specs on but through recently cleaned lenses.

*True fact. As I was typing this, on my iPod the Manic Street Preachers were singing “Suicide is Painless” on random play. How’s that for serendipity?

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2 Comments

Filed under Phil, Writing

2 responses to “You have to chuck the right person off the roof

  1. Christian

    There is a lot to be said for reorganising plot for immediate action. It can be done artfully and when done right its awesome. The first Iron Man film does it surprisingly well for a big blockbuster, but Memento does it even better.

    The maxim I try to stick by for this sort of thing is: Actions define a character. Basically another way of saying ‘show, don’t tell’ but I find it more useful and less preachy!

  2. Thanks Christian – this reflects a conversation Phil and I had the other day when I was saying that in re-reading what we had done there was too much.. he did this, then he did that, then he did this… which is very dry.

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