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ProAm Tips #6

This one is a personal affectation rather than an actual tip because it’s highly subjective. But hey, my blog, my rules. Today’s tip is this:

Always open on an action beat.

All the best stuff I’ve written opens in the middle of some kind of action beat. I opened a short story in the middle of a bank robbery. One short story opened in the middle of a spaceship repossession. One short story I wrote recently opened with an accountant getting attacked by a vampire in Central Park. You know, like you do. Every novel I’ve written: Magician opens with the main character trying to kill himself. Return Fire opens with an assassination. Pros with the main character bleeding to death in his apartment. The Long Way Home opens with the main character nearly getting blown to smithereens trying to land on Mercury because of a joke. What you Wish for opens with the main character watching his best friend overdose on stage in a bar. Orphan World begins with the main character fighting something called a spyger to the death (it’s a cross between a spider and a tiger.) Bleecker Street Bodies opens with a mugging. Martyr opens with the main character nearly breaking his neck falling off a rock outcropping.

All great action beats (he said modestly.)

I hate opening up a book and reading through twenty pages of setup before I get to the good stuff, but that’s me. I LOVE novels and books that dump me in the middle of a conflict, and explosion, a problem. They’re the ones that live up to the cover hype: “Grips you from the first page!”

A lot of books are excellent reads. A lot are classics. But gripping from the first page? The Hobbit begins by describing a hole in the ground. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Arguably the greatest realistic spy novel written) opens with the dry description of a teacher being hired mid-term. Godfather? Wedding. The Bible? Darkness. Then light.

Okay, that last one is because I’m tired. But you get the idea. I don’t advocate you writing like I do. Write like you do. But consider the audience. They like a bit of splash and dazzle. It almost never hurts.

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