Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Starting in the Right Place

I just got back from a perfectly wonderful weekend with the Nevada SCBWI. I attended quite an awesome conference, and got some really excellent feedback, and one of several enormous writing tips.

This is a post for all those writers who have been told, over and over again, to "Start with the action!"

That doesn't always work.

At least, what you don't realise is they mean to start with the right kind of action. For months and months I've been really working on perfecting my language, getting rid of superfluous ands, thens, and thats. I've also worked on making my opening chapter "hookier" and more exciting to read, because people kept saying it was too slow, or too rambling, not enough happened.

So, I made the first chapter quite exciting.

Guess what?

First of all, when I read my sample pages aloud to my critique group at the SCBWI, they all loved my "voice". However, they got a bit confused with names and terms. See, I write YA fantasy. For me, I tend to "name" things and use those names liberally throughout the novel. However, the reader can't divine what those words mean. They wanted a bit more worldbuilding, a bit more grounding in the world and a deeper connection to the character before he was thrust into madness and mayhem.

Same thing happened with my second critique group, except they felt the entire story started in the wrong chapter. I needed to write a new chapter, because I had started with the wrong action, and needed to give the readers a sense of place.

So, my advice is this: starting your story off with a thrilling road chase may not always work, especially in fantasy. It doesn't work for me, and I know that now, thanks to my fabulous critics. For a fantasy writer, you owe it to your readers to take that extra two, five, or even ten pages it takes in order to establish the major points of your world (i.e., if it *happens* to be a mulit-universe world) and to explain, creatively, what certain things mean.

Such as, the word below:

Chrestomathy \ kres-TOM-uh-thee
1.A collection of selected literary passages.

Example:  My house is littered with chrestomathy. There's something about collecting selections of literary passages that intrigues me.

Chrestomathy literally means "useful to learn" in Greek, from the roots chres ("to use") and math ("to learn").


  1. I'm glad you got such great advice, Kat! I'm looking forward to reading the new first chapter.


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