Bad Writing Advice

My crit partner and I were just discussing last night how our thinking about plot and structure has changed over the past few years.  We’ve read and studied and written and read and studied some more trying to improve our craft.  And one thing we kept hearing over and over was that you should “start with action” and “begin with the inciting incident”.  We fumbled around with these pieces of advice for a while, never really happy with the beginnings we came up with under this “rule”.  We always felt that there were important things that you needed to know about the hero and/or heroine before the big action started.  Like who the hero/ine is.  What they’re like.

No, no, that’s boring, so many said.

And then along comes Larry Brooks and Storyfix and his fabulous explanation of why the advice of starting with the inciting incident is a load of crap.  Because essentially you’re leaving off a quarter of the book.  The entire set up.  The part where you show the reader why s/he should give a flip about your hero/ine.  All the stuff I was trying to do in the first place.

Today I stumbled across this post by Jane Friedman who seconds the opinion that this is the worst writing advice about beginnings.  Rather than necessarily starting with action, she says to start with TENSION.  CONFLICT.  Which, of course, is the entire point of fiction.  A scene is, after all, a unit of conflict lived through by the characters.

So what you should OPEN with is a HOOK, something that isn’t necessarily huge dramatic action involving explosions but that leaves the reader with a question (or questions) that keeps him or her turning the page to find out the answer.

2 thoughts on “Bad Writing Advice

  1. I am just a reader, but I prefer books where I get to know the main characters a little before anything substantial happens. It gives me a reason to turn the page because I’m interested in the fate of the protagonist. I wonder if it’s a gendered thing?

  2. I like this advice. I prefer to know the characters before something major happens. At least give me some back story before plunging me in to the deep end of the drama.

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