A bang then a whimper?

Previous contributions to Rhobin’s rounds

Rhobin’s question for May, 2017 was suggested by Skye: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers’ advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

One of my required reading projects in high school was The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. It was incredibly boring to a teenager. That was not because of the content — looking back now, I see a great deal of tension and food for thought — but because of the verbosity. What I can say in 20 words took 20 pages (well, I may be exaggerating, but only slightly).

I reckon it wouldn’t find a publisher today. Current audiences are conditioned by TV to expect instant tension, immediacy, rapid movement. But, as Skye’s question implies, this applies to the whole book.

Often, I advise my editing clients to ask the unasked question about every scene, every paragraph, even ever sentence. This is: “Why should I bother to read on?” Every little advance needs to be a teaser to encourage the reader to turn the next page, read the next paragraph, progress to the next sentence.

So, yes, we need to start with a bang, but never descend to a whimper.

Apart from the continuation after the opening, another critical point is often after the sample to be submitted. Typical requirements are “first three chapters” or “first 5000 words.” So, there is the temptation to burnish that much to a fine shine, then ease off. Instead, even after the last page, the last word, we want the reader to say, “I want to read on!”

This is why my just-published book, Guardian Angel, ends with a birth.

Please leave a comment, then visit the other participants in Rhobin’s Rounds.

A.J. Maguire
Anne Stenhouse
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax
Marci Baun
Rachael Kosinski
Rhobin Courtright
Skye Taylor
Victoria Chatham

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About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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16 Responses to A bang then a whimper?

  1. Rhobin says:

    I agree that because authors are imbued with this polish the first how ever much, paragraph, page, chapter or three chapters, it is not the be all of writing. If something deserves mention within the story, it has to have a reason for being there, and needs just as much polish as beginnings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Oh, I like that, Rhobin. I often need to tell my editing clients that every word in a story needs to justify its existence. That may be a plot advance, characterisation, world building, whatever, but if its deletion would not leave a hole for a new reader, then it should go.
      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  2. wildchild says:

    I mention this very thing in my blog, Bob. So many authors place their entire attention on making that partial perfect and forget about the rest. I’ve seen this time and time again. I also think that most people think writing is easy…until they do it. Perhaps, after those first three chapters or so, they’re just exhausted and done. Writing a well-written story takes stamina and determination. If it’s not your passion, it’s hard to muster both.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      “Writing a well-written story takes stamina and determination. If it’s not your passion, it’s hard to muster both.”
      Unless it’s your addiction, of course.
      No one sees my work until I’ve revised it many times. Being obsessive has advantages.
      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  3. Skye-writer says:

    Thankfully I haven’t fallen into the trap of polishing the first 25 or whatever and then submitting something less polished, but I have panicked when I had an editor express serious interest in after my pitch and I know I’ve polished that first 25 but now I better buckle down and get the rest equally polished before they get a chance to review the partial and hopefully request the whole.

    Like

  4. Hi Bob, it’s an interesting point you and Skye raise about whether readers had a greater attention span in the past. I’d like to hope the Forsyte Saga would still find a publisher today. That would be a great shame if our reading habits had changed to that extent. I liked Marci’s comment above that people think writing is easy “until they do it”. People also think that a book that is easy to read must be easy to write, when in fact the opposite is almost always true.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      “People also think that a book that is easy to read must be easy to write, when in fact the opposite is almost always true.”
      To answer you in Australian, too right! But then, the same is true for all craft.

      Like

  5. okwriter says:

    I loved Helena’s comment about a book that is easy to write is easy to write – Not! I enjoyed your post. In particular your question for every sentence, and paragraph – “Why should I bother to read on?” Every little advance needs to be a teaser to encourage the reader to turn the next page, read the next paragraph, progress to the next sentence.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Hi Beverley,
      You North Americans amuse me. That turn of phrase you used sounds to us who speak English like a foreign language. But it’s all right — I am bilingual.
      🙂
      Bob

      Like

  6. ajmaguire says:

    I listen to the podcast “Writing Excuses” and I believe they mention this unasked question often. There’s a need to have enough tension at the end of the scene/chapter that it drives the reader to continue, but there also needs to be some small resolution so that the reader is not waiting for the entire book before they have some satisfaction.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      I agree. Remember reading a book by Wilbur Smith that had so many sources of tension that I couldn’t cope. Every page seemed to open up more, and old ones kept hanging over the poor characters.
      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I like your ideas of always keeping the reader wanting more. I’ve had to cut full scenes that were funny, or sad, or otherwise dear to my heart because they didn’t advance the plot, they just existed within the confines of my story. Tightening your work is always kind of painful, but fun.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Yup.

      I have a folder in my computer full of excellent passages I’ve cut from somewhere, in the hope I can use them in some other piece of writing. This is less painful than a delete.
      🙂

      Like

  8. Connie Vines says:

    Bob,
    I have judged published author and pre-published writing contests (for more years than I’d care to admit to), I agree the focus is on the beginning of the novel. So many times those carefully developed first three chapters need to be tossed or reworked for later in the novel. I am brutal with my personal editing. I believe historical novels have more leeway with the opening, but contemporary novels (unfortunately) have you grab the reader and seize his/her full attention almost from the get-go.

    Like

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you for the visit, Connie, though you commented on last month’s topic. I agree with you except I don’t treat historical any differently. Start it with a bang and keep banging!
      That’s why I like the Hornblower books. Do you remember them?

      Like

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