Another Fashion Forward 320 Student
It doesn’t take the aspiring writer long to realize—popular fiction subjects are the gold at the end of the rainbow. If it’s vampires, dystopian or mermaids now, interest will vanish by the time you pull out your laptop.
But what about writing style, not just what we right about, but the way we actually write?
At a conference I attended, an editor mentioned when she pitches a story she loves, she tells her colleagues something like, “It’s a wonderful story, start on page forty.” This became a common theme, many experts stating novels need to begin further into the action.
One talented writer suggested this for my work. I told him, after all I’d heard at the conference, I agreed. Perhaps starting right before the boy leaves on his journey?
He looked at me and said, “Because packing is so exciting?”
He had a point.
But I couldn’t help wondering—is this a phase? What about all the other books, the ones that seem to start slow? Are they bad?
Stephen King, in his book On Writing, talks about this phenomenon. He said he knows starting in the midst of the action is now recommended, but dislikes the flashbacks this causes. He wrote he is more of an “A to Z man” himself. In other words, start at the beginning, and go to the end.
I went to my bookshelf and opened up The Shining, my favorite Stephen King novel. (Isn’t it everyone’s?) (Except you Stand people out there.)
Okay, it didn’t begin with the hotel in mid-devouring mode—there was no, “As my Dad was trying to kill me, I couldn’t help remembering what had brought us to this point…”
But, it did start in the middle of Something. Jack Torrance’s interview. It begins with tension. Before we see anything, we hear Jack Torrance’s thoughts as he calls his potential boss a colorful pejorative. It could have started with Jack job hunting, but that wouldn’t have been as interesting. It could have started later, but I like the way the story builds.
King may like to start at the beginning, but a thousand different authors writing the same idea would have a thousand different points they would’ve seen as the beginning.
So is it better to be quicker to the action? We are less wordy than writers of the past—is it better to use smaller words? Shorter sentences? If writing changes so much over time, one can’t help wondering if the heavy use of adverbs, now the ultimate forbidden practice, will be embraced in fifty, one hundred years as the only way to write. Characters may gasp adoringly or stammer bashfully all across the pages or, more likely, the screens of avid readers. Imagine.
It does appear that writing styles shift as well as subjects, but I hope good work will always be the most important factor. Until I can differentiate between the fads and the fabulous, I think I’ll just take the advice of writers I admire, read good books and notice when the writing works.