Jump into your story with both guns blazing.
September 27, 2018
There’s no reason to write long when readers want to read short, so give them what they want: shorter books and more books.
There will always be an exception to the rule. There are exceptions to every rule. But, more and more, I am beginning to believe that the day of the great literary epic lies abandoned somewhere in the distant past, buried in the past century, and it may not be seen again for years.
There was a time when people read for the sheer pleasure and luxury of immersing themselves in great writing. Quite frankly, it took forever for something to happen. The story simply rocked along without a plot. Not yet anyway.
And readers didn’t really mind. They were patient and had come along for a long ride. Look at Gone With The Wind, for example. It took Margaret Mitchell the first hundred pages for everyone to simply get to the picnic. And once they arrived, not a lot happened.
In this new digital era of publishing and storytelling, here’s what an author has to do somewhere in the first ten pages:
- Everybody goes to the picnic.
- Somebody shows up with a gun.
- A marriage falls apart.
- Someone falls in love.
- Someone falls in love with the wrong man or woman.
- That’s why the marriage fell apart.
- The gun fires.
- Someone screams.
- Someone dies.
- Someone flees in the dark.
- The dead man is a stranger.
- He had no business at the picnic.
- He has one business card in his pocket.
- Someone reads the name on the card.
- It belongs to the man who hosted the picnic.
- Everyone looks around.
- The host is missing.
Now the preliminaries are out of the way, and the action can really begin.
Authors can’t back into stories anymore. They have to jump into the middle of the first paragraph with both guns blazing, figuratively speaking. If it takes readers a hundred pages to get to the picnic, they change their minds about page twenty-two and go somewhere else.
It doesn’t matter about the genre: mystery, thriller, romance, science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction. The stories must open with a bang, then keep a reader’s imagination running hard for the next 50,000 to 70,000 words. There’s no reason to write long when readers want to read short, so give them what they want: shorter books and more books. Use fewer words, and make every word count.
It strikes me that novels these days should be written like screenplays. Set the scene with a couple of paragraphs. In Conspiracy of Lies, Ambrose Lincoln is driven into a small town. I didn’t need to spend a half dozen pages with florid descriptions and history of the place or its buildings.
I simply wrote: When he reached the town, he realized at first glance how small it was. The city limit sign had been torn down, and no one had seen fit to replace it. Perhaps, it had never existed at all, a ghost town when all the ghosts had left.
The town had one street that cut straight through a sorrowful assortment of empty, abandoned buildings. No lights and no reflections flickered in their windows. There were no cross streets and no streetlights and no traffic.
.What else is there to say?
The reader sees it.
He’s got the picture.
Get out of the way.
Jump into the dialogue as quickly as you can.
Let the characters tell the story.
Everybody likes to read dialogue.
It moves fast.
It moves quick.
The end is always in sight.
And that’s the challenge facing serious writers today. You are no longer permitted to write literary prose for page after page after page of narration.
Let’s see if you can capture and cage the same magic in a single paragraph or two.
That’s what separates writers, the good from the bad.
Readers will let you know which is which.
Please click HERE to find Conspiracy of Lies on Amazon.