Friday, February 22, 2008

Engage Me Already!

That title’s not a typo. After I posted for Valentine’s Day I realized the second connotation when talking about books. “Engage me already,” could definitely be sighed while you bow back in your chair. Or it could be the war cry you utter when tossing a book across the room. Though if you’re split 50/50, you’d likely go retrieve it.

I’m one of those readers that tries to last until the end (unless it’s a textbook). Though I’ve often read books that took forever to get started. Like the one I’m reading now that doesn’t seems to pop into everyone’s head as an introduction. The book just finished that task at page 68. Ditto that same problem for the one before too. It took half the plotline to get started…though it was published 2 years ago. (Recall how market wants vary from year to year. Now it’s hit `em hard and fast with all the good stuff.)

I know I shouldn’t be pointing fingers, because I’m guilty of this writer’s fault—getting to the crux of the problem or the action that kick starts the book. I’ve gotten better during my last few manuscripts. (My comments from contest judges prove it.) Part of the problem stems from a writer who feels the need to tell the reader everything about the characters. Other times it stems from the writer not knowing their character(s) well enough. Hence the onslaught of mock interviews authors can fill out to learn everything about their characters, including what undies they wear. However, this can also substantiate the problem, because it gives writers more fodder to work into the story line. Which of course takes the reader away from the main story line, while the writer goes on a side tangent. This is where that purple pen is required to mark up those manuscript pages to save only what’s needed, and keep the pace from bogging down.

I still think a bit of backstory is essential when building a new world where there’s nothing ordinary to relate to. (Though these days editors/agents want to nix a good portion of those details.) I’m also all for getting to the action…but not so quickly that by page two I’m still wondering what the heck is going on. By all means, the author can drop me in the middle of a firefight, but she needs to arm me with weapons to take down the bad guys, instead of swinging at anyone.

Above all don’t make the beginning putter on and on like the little engine that could. Either the reader is going to skip ahead (overlooking all those fabulous prose you’ve labored over) or they’ll put down the book and never pick up anything you’ve written again. Another thing to note is that if the author starts fast, she should finish completely. Don’t make the beginning grandiose then let the ends to tie up strong trickle away or the reader (including those agents/editors) will feel robbed. Then more book pitching will be involved…and not the kind that relies on face-to-face selling.

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In other news, I didn’t get that sparkley for Valentine’s Day. I got a love voodoo doll. Yep, you heard right. I’d mentioned getting one…to tie in as a giveaway for a story. My bf didn’t hear the last part. Selective editing, eh?

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6 comments:

Lynda K. Scott said...

Terrific post, Skylar! I just finished reading a couple of books that took eons to 'engage' me. Needless to say, these authors probably won't make my auto-buy list.

I like a book that filters in necessary backstory in small bits and doesn't waste time moving the plot along. Even more, I don't like books that hint at a plot so briefly that I end up at the end of the book wondering what was the point? That drives me craze!

Savanna Kougar said...

It can be a tricky balancing act, between enough world-building and back story, so that the action taking place is understood in the right context, and the heroine and hero sizzle together. I attempt to strike that balance, but that I only means I do the best I can to accomplish it...?

Skylar Masey said...

Thanks Lynda :0) Ditto about getting to the end without being satisfied. The book before this one rambled on, then finally got good (and worth redaing) during the last 3 chapters!!

Skylar Masey said...

Savanna~

You're so right. It is a tough balance to strike. For the writer it's hard to know if you're getting the point across and enough about the characters without dumping. Just like writers can say to much, we can also reveal too little about the characters. We know the cast, but haven't really fleshed them out for the reader.

I think this is where readers in general can help, even those that don't read in your genre. They can tell you if they don't understand the character(s) or if the start lags. I'd also say contests are another way to get feedback, but with that comes a warning to be careful. Remeber all the response is subjective and you have to way the price against what you want to get out of the experience.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Sigh. That last word in my post was supposed to be 'crazy'. I really do know how to spell, lol, but apparently I don't know how to proofread :D

Skylar Masey said...

Lol. I think sometimes our minds go faster than our fingers.