Don’t Dump on Me! Rule #17 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #17

17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

Everyone PLeeeeeese read that again.

Yes, I am an admitted action junkie, but I’m not asking you to explode something on your first page (although I have been guilty of doing this)

Buuuuuttt…  Your character should be doing SOMETHING when the story starts out… and even at the start of a chapter.  You need to grab your reader right from the first line.  That’s hard to do when nothing is happening, right?

Make it fast, make it clear, and grab your reader.  Make them want to read on.  You only have a page to make an impression.  Make it a good one.


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10 responses to “Don’t Dump on Me! Rule #17 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. The first 3 sentences are critical to lure the reader into the story…maybe you only have that first sentence – people are in such a hurry these days.
    (And that first sentence of the Harry Potter series – opens all the doors – stylistically interesting- reads so well out loud – lots of details/attitude given but reader wonders: why wouldn’t they be considered normal? Who would question it? A piece of exquisite writing. The first sentence – and the author’s free to use the reader as she will….

  2. Every time I read ‘Hunting down the Pleonasm’ my slightly twisted mind reads, ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ … one of my favourite poems.

    I agree there needs to be some great writing on the first page to hook the readers attention, but as kford so eloquently put it, it doesn’t have to be an ‘action’ sequence.

  3. Jenny does have a point but, I know from my own work, sometimes one needs to cut out some of the scene-setting in order to grab the reader. For my first published novel, while there was action in the fact that my character was at school and interacting with her friends, it didn’t get to the meat of the story quickly enough. I think I rewrote that first chapter about five or six times and ended up jumping ahead, starting with the stuff in the original third chapter and using that for the first chapter. I guess it all depends what works best. 🙂

  4. Hmm, I’d have to disagree with this one, though I understand where you’re coming from. I think the opening needs to grab in some way, not necessarily in ‘action’. Take the 1st Harry Potter story that introduces us to the series: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4 Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” The rest of the 1st page went into description of Mr. and Mrs. Dursley. The writing grabs the reader, not the action. I’ve read tons of other books that start out with no action but engages the reader so completely the reader forgets or doesn’t care there is no action. Rowling broke the rules once more in “The Order of the Phoenix”: The hottest day of summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.” She then goes on to lay the scene of dusty cars, parched lawns, and a bespectacled boy laying in the grass beneath a window, followed by more description of Harry. Immediately we are immersed in the story because she set the scene so well, like a camera zooming in. Personally I like this approach best.

    With action one also has to be careful about giving line by line details. The last thing a writer wants to do is bore the reader: “Paul put one foot before the other and walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. He plucked his toothbrush from the stand and loaded it with toothpaste. Wetting the brush, he put it in his mouth and began to brush his teeth. Top, bottom, spit. Rinse, Repeat. He was done.

    He put the toothbrush back, turned off the light and walked back to his room. He sat on the edge of the bed and put on his shoes.”

    Action – yes. The kind of action the reader wants? No. I’d rather zoom to dusty cars than read an exposition on how to walk and tooth-brushing. Just sayin’. 🙂 🙂