Friday, March 25, 2011

Jump Right In or Tiptoe Into the Water?

I'm writing a mystery novel and have read so much advice along the lines of, "Get to the action right away! The body needs to be there asap, maybe even on the first page! Don't waste time 'setting the scene' - we want blood now!"

Sigh. That's not how my novel starts. And I know it's the first draft and all, and I might trash the first several thousand words, in second draft, but still ... setting is important to me. I like to know where the characters are in the world, Earth or whatever world they're inhabiting. I can't help it -- I like geography. I think where people live affects their lives.

And I like knowing about the characters. I want to know a bit about their psychology, what their unique thought patterns are.

So my WIP starts with a bit of characterization and a bit of place setting. Yes, I talk about the trees, and the ocean, and some quirks of the local people, as seen through the eyes of my main character, who is new to the area. I show it as she experiences it. Maybe too much, but as I said, it's first draft and can be edited down later.

Anyway -- I was glad to read the opposite viewpoint from another mystery writer, on the blog The Kill Zone . Here's a couple of paragraphs from writer John Gilstrap:

The point of all this is for the author 
to take her time developing the characters. 
Make me care for them before you put them in harm’s way. 
If we know what the normal normal is, we can start the 
scene where the author originally started it, and from 
Amy’s point of view, the change to the new normal 
will be genuinely frightening.

I fear sometimes that we here in The Killzone 

violate my overarching rule for creative writing: 
there are no rules. We tell people to get right 
to the action. Sometimes, that’s not what the 
story really needs. Maybe we should tell people 
to get right to the interesting stuff.

I guess then the question becomes what he considers "the interesting stuff" because that's subjective. I think the stuff about the setting interesting while others may not care at all. So then it's a matter of moderation, perhaps. Put in enough to keep me happy, but not enough to bore the pants off someone else. 

Really, it's so hard to know which pieces of advice to take under consideration and which to just disregard with "Pffffttt!" I'm hoping, that when I get the first draft done and am rewriting for second draft, that I'll have a clear mind and a good red pencil, and use it as necessary. And then I hope for good beta readers who will be equally strong in helping to shape the manuscript into the best it can be. 

And then I hope to find an agent who likes a bit of setting and a bit of characterization. 


  1. Hi Kat - just wanted to let you know you are spotlighted on the blog today!