How much is too much when starting a book?
In my contemporary fantasy, When the Star Fell (or whatever I end up titling it), I have a bit of a dilemma.
Draft 2, which is the first complete draft of the book, takes until chapter 6 for the status quo upsetting moment to occur.
Draft 6 has that moment occurring in chapter 4.
I’ve tried to start the book with that moment, but it doesn’t work for me. There are relationships to set up which are actually key to that moment having greater impact. (At least in my head the way I’m looking at the manuscript.) And I really have tried to start there. I wrote a new beginning, which still ended up in this current draft, just in chapter 4 not chapter 1. I hated it. It didn’t grab me at all when I got to that upset moment.
I’ve recently received some feedback on the first chapter that has me absolutely waffling. This reviewer wanted more setup, more descriptions, more scenes happening in the start location. I haven’t told this reviewer yet about the fact that two chapters of it got cut in revisions.
So at what point do you find the balance? How much setup is too much? Is it instinctive? Is it an inherent part of an author’s style and voice, whether they start with a bang or ease into it?
For me, I really do prefer easing into it, both when I’m reading and when I’m writing. I can get engrossed in either form of opening. It just depends, for me, on whether the action heightens the tension and helps to draw me into the character or if I need to see them in their normal life for a bit to feel the impact of that status quo upsetting moment the way I should.
Rick Riordan’s books are a prime example of this. The Red Pyramid starts a little slower. The two narrators show you a bit of what their normal is. Then he gets to the action and the upsetting of status quo. The Lost Hero jumps right into the crux of one character’s arc. The kid has absolutely no idea where he is or who he is. This tension would be gone if we’d seen any bit of his normal reality.
Tolkien started off showing you how hobbits celebrate birthdays and what the Shire is like.
Jane Austen jumped right to the meat of it, a mother who wants nothing more than for her daughters to marry well, and one such opportunity has just moved into the neighborhood.
Kiersten White showed just how not normal Evie’s normal is before turning her world on its ear.
I could go on, but I won’t. I think what these examples are showing us is that, yes, it is instinctive and dependent on the story being told. I believe it is part of an author’s voice, but more to do with the unique perspective an author brings to any story they write rather than a critical component of that voice.
What about you? Agree or disagree? Which do you tend to favor, jumping straight in or easing in?