Monday, January 15, 2018

Tip Time

Hello!  I have decided to do a new monthly feature on my blog, in addition to the query critiques--Tip Time!!

The plan is to share something interesting I've learned or seen throughout the course of the month that I think will be helpful for you all to read about.  If you have any other suggestions for kinds of tips you'd like to read or what you want me to talk about (tip-wise or otherwise!), let me know in the comments section.

For January, after reading lots of requested manuscripts and opening chapters of queries, my tip is: really put thought into where you start your story.

The opening of a story is the most important part--it needs to draw us into the world, connect us to the characters, and keep us intrigued enough to keep turning the pages.  I know that's a tall order, but in addition to all that, it needs to start in the right place.

I've seen several manuscripts recently that suffer from that problem and there is no general cure-all for this.  You have to really consider your story and your audience.  I will give two examples to illustrate what I mean (hopefully)!  
  • Awhile ago, I read the beginning of a YA WWII story about Jewish refugees who board a cruise ship to Cuba to escape the Third Reich but risk being turned away and mutiny in the middle of the ocean.  Super fascinating, with a plot that I'd never heard about before (and you know how much I love unknown history).  However, the beginning of the story was bogged down with backstory about Nazis, Kristallnacht, and the treatment of German Jews.  
It wasn't the most captivating start, since I already knew the background of the situation and was eager to jump right to what happened on the cruise ship.  With things in the historical fiction genre, starting right at the meat of the story is more important to me than getting all the backstory out right away--I'd rather that be sprinkled in throughout the first half.
  • I also read a MG spy adventure that had the opposite problem.  We were dropped into the action right away and I felt really confused!  There was a kid fighting masked men and dodging through alleyways and I had no idea why.  With something like this, where there isn't a readily grasped context, such as the Holocaust or an easily recognized situation, I like to see stories start slower and spend more time in the character's mindset so that we have time to acclimate to the world we are in and then move on to the meat.
This all goes to show that there is no one "right way" to start a manuscript that works for every genre.  You have to consider if your readers need background information to understand what's going on or if you're writing a well-known period of history or circumstance; if the most compelling way to draw readers in is to start at a tense scene and then flashback or to move forward chronologically; the best way to create a connection between your readers and MC; how to build tension and keep the pace moving, etc.  There are so many important things to get right! 

But when you do, you have something really wonderful that agents, editors, and readers can get excited about!!  I hope this was a helpful tip--since this is my first time doing this, I'd super appreciate feedback and thoughts!  Thanks, everyone!