Writerfield

Fuel for the creative writer

Category: voice

Starting stories without a bang

Stories should start in the middle of the action, right? You’ve probably heard that advice over and over again, in a number of different forms. Start strong, don’t let your characters dawdle around, give your readers something active to start with, and so on.

So is this always the best approach? Should you ever start your stories slowly, building up to the action later on? Or is it always correct to start trapped in the middle of a gunfight?

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Just like writing, there are no hard rules here, despite what you might have heard. And writing, like life, is full of trade-offs.

Some stories will benefit tremendously from an introduction that’s fast-paced and full of action. Others need a gentle hand, one that guides the characters away from action, but not out of tension.

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“Don’t worry about repeating ‘they said,'” they said.

Nobody wants to sound like a broken record. In addition, nobody wants to sound like a broken record.

Wait. What?

Okay, two quick questions:

  • Do you own a thesaurus?
  • Have you ever replaced a common word you’ve repeated in your writing with a fancier, lesser-known one?

Here are my answers. Yes, and yes, of course! In fact, the first draft of the second list item above almost started with “Have you ever scrutinized a common word…” Ugh!

As we develop our writing voice, many of us go through a phase where we try to replace quotidian (common) words for ones that are more sophisticated (less common). We want our work to have precision, don’t we? So why would somebody complain when they could caterwaul? Is a situation propitious, or is it simply good?

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Stephen King, On Writing

Sometimes, a ten-dollar word can spice up your writing. These words are perfectly cromulent, after all. However, you’re making a trade-off. You can drag a reader out of the moment if they have to stop to look up a word, or if the word sticks out like something you’ve–oh, I don’t know–just looked up in a thesaurus.

Take dialogue, for example. In a heated conversation, characters are going to speak with emotion. They’re going to growl, they’ll yell, they might huff and puff, and they might mutter under their breath. Does that mean that they graduate out of simply saying what they’re saying?

In other words, should you bring out the thesaurus and eliminate “he said,” “she said,” “they said,” and the like?

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