If you’ve ever watched the movie, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews leads the Von Trapp children in singing a catchy tune called “Do-Re-Mi”. In this song, the advice is to “start at the very beginning; a very good place to start…” While this is true in most cases, it’s not always the case in writing a novel.
I’ve heard it before, but it came up in my class last week that a novel should begin in the middle of the action to rope the reader into the story. Then, backstory is provided only as necessary as the story progresses. This gives the reader a little mystery to figure out; how did the main character end up in that predicament? I’m a curious person, so this formula works like a charm for me. Much of the time, I’ll read on just to find out what happened. On the few occasions where the writing didn’t pull me in, I just flip the last chapter to satisfy my curiosity. I know, that’s bad, but I have to be able to sleep at night 🙂
I just wonder if exceptions to this rule can still be interesting for today’s “gotta have it now” society. (Today’s novels are much more fast-paced than even twenty years ago.) At what point does breaking a rule change from a no-no to innovative? The English language has many rules meant to be broken. For instance:
- * “I” before “E” except after “C” (but not always)
- * To make a noun plural, add “S” (except for words ending in certain letters)
- * Add “ED” to a verb to show past tense (too many exceptions to begin a list. Ooh, there’s one: ‘begin’ becomes ‘began’ in past tense.)
In evaluating my second novel, I’m realizing that it may just be a book of broken rules. I’m writing it in first person, present tense, even though this isn’t often well-received by readers. I tried to rewrite it in past tense, but it just didn’t work. I started the story at the beginning of the trouble, so the reader goes through the process of figuring out the mystery along with the main character.
For several days, I’ve thought about how to start it in the middle of the action, but for this story, I think it takes away from the mystery. I haven’t worked on novel #2 since July because I’ve been working on short stories, but I’m almost to a point I can pick it up again. I’m still on chapter six, but I may keep going with it and see what the final product looks like.
Are you a writing rule-breaker? Please share 🙂