Monday, October 3, 2011

Action - Motivation and Background = Massive Edits

I was commenting on the awesome Elana Johnson's post this morning and realized my comment was turning into a post of its own LOL So I copied and pasted it over here and left a shortened version over there :D (Definitely go read her post though if you haven't yet - great editing tips!)

Elana was talking about the things she'd learned from her editors, and asked what we had learned.

I think my biggest one (so far) was trying to jump right into the action without giving my readers enough about my MC to make them care about the action. When I started doing revisions with my agent I ended up adding a whole new first chapter just so I could set things up better, add some background on my character and why she's in the situation she's in, so by the time you got to my old first chapter you actually care about why she's doing what she's doing.

So often we hear that you have to hook people right away and in YA especially, I think that often translates into jumping right into the action. But if the reader doesn't know enough about the world, the characters, and the situation, they probably won't care about that awesome action you are putting right up front.

For my book, my MC is on the hunt for a treasure because she thinks finding it will save her family. And in my old beginning, I opened with her impatiently waiting for what she hopes will be a big clue - then in walks potential love interest who totally freaks her out and then a whole bunch of other stuff happens.

There's nothing wrong with what I had going on (in fact, it's still in the book...just not as the first chapter), but I hadn't spent nearly enough time setting up my character's backstory, who she is and what her motivation was for doing what she was doing. That didn't mean I had to write her entire backstory into the book, but without knowing a bit more about my character, her actions didn't make a lot of sense to my readers. And they certainly weren't as gripping and intense as I'd hoped they'd be.

With those motivations, characterizations, and background bits in place, the action I'd tried to create in the beginning worked much better. There is still action going on - she's still actively doing something, there is still mystery being created - I'm not just spelling out her life story - but I think I did a much better job of setting up the story before really diving into the heart of the matter.

What I learned - It's great to jump right into the action. But you've still got to give your reader a reason to care about what's going on or they won't be hooked, no matter how great that action may be.

What editing tips have you learned?


Janet Johnson said...

Great tips! I agree, I enjoy getting to know characters a bit first rather than jumping straight to the action.

Stephanie McGee said...

Totally agree on beginnings. While it does work at times to jump straight into that action, you always need some amount of setup so your readers care.

Becky Mahoney said...

Seconding everything you said! I just made the same change for the agent I'm working with: I wrote a new first chapter to properly ground the reader before I started the action. I was a bit too worried about hooking people from the first sentence, and I underestimated the power of a subtly intriguing opening. I do think it reads a lot better now, and I'm hoping the agent thinks so too!

Jen Chandler said...

Great advice, Michelle!

It's a balancing act, writing that first chapter. We do need people to care about our MC, why they are doing what they're doing, who they are. We need to give them something that affects them so deeply that they continue reading. It is a challenge to make this happen while catching people's attention in those first few pages.

I've been reworking a novel and the first chapter is waaaay better than it had been because of this very thing!

Thanks for the confirmation :)

Tricia Clasen said...

Excellent post. Such an important balance to find.

Mark Noce said...

I agree. My editors, professional and otherwise, often emphasize the same thing.