Put the action up front


I’ve heard this so many times. Start your story with the action, don’t work up to it. Don’t make the reader wait for something to happen, etc. So why, oh why, did I do just that? I thought I was done, the book was marvelous, I had it going on! Then I re-read (for the umpteenth time) and realize that it takes a helluva long time to get to the action. Jeez! So I’m back to square one and punching it up.

As much as we want our work to be bullet-proof, it’s not. Each time someone reads it and gives a critique, we must decide what to keep and what to use. This time, it was obvious…”Why is it so slow in the beginning?” my friend asked. “It’s so powerful the rest of the book and with so much action. Shouldn’t that be up front?” DUH! Of course it should and I am blind.

Read any YA book and you’ll see that 95 percent of the time, the action starts right up front. Percy Jackson is a great example. He’s on a field trip with his class, walking through a museum and Pow! his teaching turns into a flying creature and tries to kill him. Every kid reading the book was hooked right there. Same thing with the first Harry Potter-he’s under the stairs and he keeps getting letters….they won’t stop till Hagrid shows up. It’s right up front… And that’s why agents want just the first few pages. It’s all up front, if it doesn’t start out powerful how can they expect anything more?

So, I’ve learned my lesson and I’m back to working on Ch. 1. Not discouraged at all, just grateful for a friend who pointed out a flaw. Put the action up front…it’s my new motto (and should have been all along).

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15 thoughts on “Put the action up front

  1. Your friend had great advice and I’m slapping my own forehead. What’s the one thing I probably say the most to my students? GET TO THE POINT. I admire that you are courageous and smart enough to get others to read your work and take what’s best from their comments. You go girl! This is what’s so great about editing — it’s truly a wonderous thing.

    • You are the one who said it to me! Don’t slap yourself, pat yourself on the back. You said it after you read the draft, then I put it aside thinking, “Well, that’s not really true.” I re-read and realized you were so right! Thanks to you, it’s going to be even better and definitely-to the point up front. (I paraphrased your words since I couldn’t remember exactly) You’re my best critic!

  2. Excellent insight! Hooking the reader through action is a great idea. I’ve only really considered building conflict through character. I’ve not given action too much thought.

    I’m adding this to my toolbox under the heading, Spice up that beginning with a little action on the side.

    Great catch Christia.

    • I think it’s hard when reading your own work. I know when the action is coming, but I think it’s coming fast enough. It’s always great to get someone else to chime in. Good luck with your “action.”

  3. I’m not a book writer but what you say is so true about most writing. Get to the point! No one wants to read a 1,000 word blog post only to find out in the last few sentences what the whole point is. They’ll never get there.

    Excellent advice for ANY type of writing!

    • Sara, that’s a great point. Being a journalist, I know how important it is to get the point in the first paragraph. I guess I just didn’t carry it over to my creative writing. And blog posting is great practice for this…Thanks!

  4. Being me, I had that advice in mind when I wrote my first first paragraph, but, being me, took it a bit too literally.

    Now, thanks to C.A. Marshall, I have a quick little hook (I hope), THEN the action. Action without context is as bad as instant backstory.

    • Thanks for that, Nathan. I’ll keep watch on making it too abrupt in the action. This writing gig is complicated, isn’t it? I’ll be watching for your writing info on your blog-which is great!

  5. I agree that you’ve got to get the action going right in the first chapter. I think it’s okay to start a little slower, as long as there’s something powerful by the end of the first 10 pages.

    • That’s true. I guess I’m just afraid of not having enough action up front to grab the reader. It’s a very tricky concept, isn’t it? Thanks for commenting-I love reading your blog!

  6. There is a screenwriter’s book out there called, “Save the Cat!” I highly recommend it for novelists too as it really helps get the action going and the main character well-liked from the beginning.

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