Writing for a Slam Bam, Thank You Ma’m World
April 2, 2014
We live a different kind of existence now.
And it’s reflected in the literature we write and read.
There was a time when our lives moved along at a much more leisurely pace.
We weren’t in a hurry.
We left early.
We were never late.
We took the time to meet people.
We took the time to get to know people.
Then when something happened to them – if something bad ever happened to them – we cared and were genuinely concerned.
That’s the way it was with books and movies as well.
The story, as a rule, started slowly.
We were meticulously introduced to each of the characters.
We learned their backstories.
We knew what made them laugh.
We understood what made them cry.
We loved what they loved.
We feared what they feared.
We uncovered their secrets.
And we worried about them.
These people weren’t simply names on a page or on a screen.
They were friends.
We even had a relationship with those we didn’t like.
We saw their flaws.
We were appalled at their greed.
We were aghast at their jealousy.
We hated because they hated.
Something happened on page one hundred or so, and the story took a nasty turn, went into a dastardly tailspin, and took us right along with it.
We were longer merely readers.
We were one of the characters – always looking in, perhaps, never really taking part, but always smack dab in the middle of the scene.
Who would die?
Who would fall in love?
Who would be rejected?
Who would hurt the worse?
And sometimes we hurt the worse.
It’s not that way anymore.
We live in a far different world.
We often meet ourselves coming and going.
And readers prefer their stories the same way.
We no longer get to know the characters.
It takes too long.
We are too impatient.
Now from the first page – whether it’s a mystery, a romance, science fiction, or fantasy – we are thrown into the action with them. There must be conflict and tension from the first sentence and first paragraph forward.
That’s what we as writers are told.
Write a hook.
Set the hook.
Let the story boil with action.
Throw the hero into a life-threatening dilemma.
Don’t give him or her any way out.
Put their backs to the wall.
Make them suffer.
And put their lives on the line.
Now, you can begin writing paragraph two or at least page two.
Don’t worry. Readers can learn about the characters later on. And sometimes we learn about them only after they are dead, particularly those who die in the first paragraph.
Don’t shoot for 150,000 words, not anymore.
A good 60,000 or 70,000 words will do just fine.
Forget the classics.
Ignore Gone With The Wind.
After all, it takes the first hundred pages just to get to the picnic.
That’s the unpardonable sin of all novels these days.
Something has to happen.
And it has to happen quickly.
Watch a mystery movie or TV show.
Someone is dead before the screen credits end.
We have no idea who died.
It doesn’t matter.
The story is off and headed for God knows where, but it will get there in a hurry.
Is this a better way to tell a story?
I doubt it.
But the times dictate what we do and why we do it.
Hit the ground running early.
That’s what writing a novel or a screenplay is all about these days.
If the author is out of breath, maybe the reader will be breathless, too.
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