Throat-clearing & Head-banging

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E McD
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Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by E McD » March 30th, 2010, 6:37 pm

So, I took a chance and had the first page of my novel read aloud by a panel of judges at the Virginia Festival of the Book a couple of weeks ago. Four judges who could vote GREEN (they'd keep reading) or RED (they'd put it down) in a sort of American Idol kind of way. I got two greens and two reds. Like any self-conscious writer, I waited for the red explanations. One said, "Too much throat-clearing and I'm not sure why it's in past tense," the other red said, "Get to the action, skip the data."

Here's where the head-banging comes in...

Agents post on their blogs all the time that they want action, action, action up front. A hook. But, at the same time, I read over and over again that readers want to be grounded, too. They want to know the who, what, when, and why should I care up front.

When is it throat-clearing and when is it much-needed info to care? The "throat-clearing" comment was a new phrase to me related to writing. (sigh) What a fine line...
-Emily McDaniel

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Bohemienne
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by Bohemienne » March 30th, 2010, 7:24 pm

To be completely frank about something that I'm just as guilty of, I hate it when books present me matter-of-factly with data that I pulled straight out of the blurb on the back. To me the synopsis gives me the who what when where why, and the actual storycan begin when I open to the first page.

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Jaime
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by Jaime » March 30th, 2010, 8:32 pm

I'm with you, Emily. I posted a similar topic in this thread called "Action, anyone?" and there are a few differing and interesting opinions there. I think it's pretty rough - especially considering it was only your first page. I like to be invested in my characters before I start caring about whether they're in trouble or not, and I can't care too much about a character if they're in some sort of trouble on the first page!
Go with your gut. Two of them gave you a green card, so it's a matter of taste. Don't go changing your novel to cater for the 50% who are after instant gratification - once the first bit of action is over, who's to say that they would have read on from that point? The ones who gave you a green card may have read on and deeply loved your story because they loved your characters, not necessarily the circumstance they were in.

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Ryan
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by Ryan » March 30th, 2010, 9:27 pm

Holy nerve attack! I had no idea those kinds of things existed! 50% is pretty good. If 50% of readers out there enjoy your book then you are on it. Even though they are judges, they are still just four people among millions who read and buy books.
My love of fly fishing and surfing connects me to rivers and the ocean. Time with water reminds me to pursue those silly little streams of thought that run rampant in my head.
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shadow
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by shadow » March 30th, 2010, 9:35 pm

Lucky you got to do that! It would be fun if we could get together a few agents/ interns that would offer such a free service on a blog or something like Writers Idol... lol JK I wish.. but anyways I personally prefer action up front the rest catches up. Usually I see that people have a lot of flesh in the beginning that isn't needed. Maybe you could remove a few paragraphs experimentaly and see what turns out. I am sure you won't loose anything vital!
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JustineDell
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by JustineDell » March 30th, 2010, 9:45 pm

shadow wrote:Lucky you got to do that! It would be fun if we could get together a few agents/ interns that would offer such a free service on a blog or something like Writers Idol... lol JK I wish.. but anyways I personally prefer action up front the rest catches up. Usually I see that people have a lot of flesh in the beginning that isn't needed. Maybe you could remove a few paragraphs experimentaly and see what turns out. I am sure you won't loose anything vital!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Nathan Idol!!! Nathan Idol!!!!

Seriously, though...fifty-fifty is not too shabby. Afterall, think of the reject stats on queries. You're already do better, right? You can't please everyone, that's one thing you have to remember. ;-)

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E McD
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by E McD » March 30th, 2010, 9:51 pm

You're absolutely right. I can't please everyone, and I'm grateful for the 50/50, but I'm always striving to be better! :) Thanks, guys!

And for the record, I'd be ALL ABOUT an AGENT IDOL.
-Emily McDaniel

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gonzo2802
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Re: Throat-clearing & Head-banging

Post by gonzo2802 » March 31st, 2010, 5:02 pm

I think the part that confuses a lot of us when we hear about starting with action is that ... action doesn't necessarily mean a physical confrontation or drama of some sort. It just means having your character doing something worthwhile that gets the story started. I think we've got ourselves conditioned to think all of our books have to start off with a thriller-like opening paragraph even if that isn't the genre we're writing.

But that isn't the case. Tolkien kind of did it both ways:

For instance, in The Fellowship of the Ring the first paragraph of the actual story starts out with action that tells us that something is happening. "When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton."

That gives us something to relate with and look forward to in the next couple of pages as readers. As opposed to the twenty-or-so pages of prologue that proceeded that opening paragraph where he gave a blow-by-blow low down on what exactly a Hobbit is.

Head bang away, but I agree with some of the others. The fact that you got a 50% thumbs up probably means it's a preference sort of thing ... and not anything you're doing incorrectly per say.

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