From Weronika’s Archives: On Compactness

Note that fiction’s role is to give accounts of things that are and things that happen, as well as things that might be or could be! Below is a diverse array of excerpts from novels of diverse kinds in the young adult (YA)/teen genre.


This post was originally included in the 2011 WriteOnCon faculty series. The online conference is no longer hosted.

Disclaimer #1: As with any discussions on plot and pacing (see one here), the suggestions made in this post are not all-encompassing.

Disclaimer #2: All conference attendees whose excerpts are pasted here gave permission by posting to a specific thread on the WriteOnCon forums.

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Writers are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t read query letters and instead jump straight into the enclosed pages. My reasoning? Even the best queries won’t persuade me to sign novelists whose writing needs work, and 94% of the fiction in my query inbox isn’t ready. Another 4% is good but not right for me; another 2% I request. I offer to represent even less.

Among qualities such as strong voice, plot and characterization is, of course, good writing, which can be defined by an array of different elements—lovely, lyrical imagery; conciseness; originality; pitch; pacing. Whether it’s the overall storytelling (a blend of characterization and plot) or the language that is more important to the writer, one quality remains consistent in determining what is well written: compactness.

Compact writing manifests when the writer puts words on the page with courage, direction, and intention; when every word is critical to and organic in the building of the scene, and ideas are introduced quickly without overwhelming readers. The best writers layer each of their scenes, considering the framework of their chapters, and then they undergo harsh line edits to rid their works-in-progress of all unnecessary components. Compactness is not a matter of words alone, of each sentence having purpose. It’s also a matter of storytelling—the rise of events and tension in each paragraph, scene, chapter, and part, and in the novel as a whole.

Compactness is tough to teach outside the sentence level. It’s the writer’s vision that matters—the tightness to the story as it plays out, with practice, reading, and more practice as the main reasons behind these writers’ successes. Like with all things writing-related, to teach is to spend a lifetime discussing.

For this post, I’ve taken the route that makes most sense to me: I’ve analyzed what I hope is a wide array of examples, both published and unpublished.

I hope that readers will see similarities to their own work—and will self-edit—or will be inspired to try new frameworks as they rewrite and revise. Remember that I do not know the context for any of the unpublished novels, and you are the master of your own work, so take this feedback with a grain of salt. My critique is not meant to reflect upon ability, but rather the compactness of the excerpt in relation to what I suspect comes next.

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Pretty much every single one of the published excerpts I’ve included here still blows me away, leaves goosebumps on my skin, sucks me right back into the story and the minds of characters I adore—so be prepared.

CONTEMPORARY

Excerpt from FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, 2011):

I gaze at the small, crisp, burned-out black husks scattered across the chipped white paint of the windowsills. It is hard to believe that they were ever alive. I wonder what it would be like to be shut up in this airless glass box, slowly baked for two long months by the relentless sun, able to see the outdoors—the wind shaking the green trees right there in front of you—hurling yourself again and again at the invisible wall that seals you off from everything that is real and alive and necessary, until eventually you succumb: scorched, exhausted, overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. At what point does a fly give up trying to escape through a closed window—do its survival instincts keep it going until it is physically capable of no more, or does it eventually learn after one crash too many that there is no way out? And what point do you decide that enough is enough?

Wow, wow, wow. Wow. Wow, wow, wow—you know?

This first paragraph (162 words) from the novel FORBIDDEN shows an incredible ability to write compactly. Suzuma first establishes a connection to the real world by showing readers the dead flies lying along the windowsill, and then packs an entire philosophical idea into the same paragraph: What does it mean to live? To fight for survival?

She has complete control over her writing. While the sentences are long and complex, there is a purpose here, a sense of urgency. As a reader, you can’t stop. She pulls you forward; the current threatens to wash you away. Absolutely not one word is wasted. The primary reason that we’re able to process all of these ideas without being thrown for a loop is the relative simplicity with which the paragraph grows; Suzuma gives readers room to breathe, and then takes them in the direction she considers best. That direction is logical and the pieces connect.

I don’t know how you can read the paragraph and not buy the book.

Excerpt from THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson (Dial Books/Penguin, 2010):

Gram is worried about me. It’s not just because my sister Bailey died four weeks ago, or because my mother hasn’t contacted me in sixteen years, or even because suddenly all I think about is sex. She is worried about me because one of her houseplants has spots.

Gram has believed for most of my seventeen years that this particular houseplant, which is of the nondescript variety, reflects my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. I’ve grown to believe it, too.

Across the room from where I sit, Gram—all six feet and floral frock of her, looms over the black-spotted leaves.

“What do you mean it might not get better this time?” She’s asking this of Uncle Big: arborist, resident pothead, and mad scientist to boot. He knows something about everything, but he knows everything about plants.

Nelson is an equally talented writer. In this excerpt (137 words) from THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, she has introduced three main characters and their ever-quirky characteristics. More importantly, she has opened multiple doors into conflict—we are first drawn forward by these characters, who charmed me right off the bat, and also by a sense of curiosity and tension regarding Bailey’s death, the potential for sexual promiscuity on Lennie’s part, Gram’s health, and Uncle Big’s existence.

In other words, Nelson has layered magnificently. Notice how each topic is compact—just a few words here and there to establish conflict and character—and notice how the transitions are completely natural, as if this scene were written in stone before Nelson put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys). Nelson doesn’t expect readers to process huge, unfamiliar details—everything that she includes is common sense in this world.

I loved this book, too, heart and soul.

Excerpt from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins(Dutton/Penguin, 2010):

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amélie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I’m not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and it’s shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with the statue of the woman missing her arms. And there are cafés or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.

I’ve heard they don’t like Americans, and they don’t like white sneakers.

Perkins charms readers in a different way than Nelson—in this 149-word excerpt from her debut ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS, she has totally established Anna as a silly but real character. Her choices as a novelist both make the character and compactness, as every single sentence introduces a fresh idea, a new element of France; a new connection to Anna, the main character. It’s a list, so it’s easy to follow, but the meaning of the list is what creates rhythm and interest.

In general, Perkins is one of the most compact commercial YA writers I’ve ever seen—each of her sentences sings with humor and depth and fun. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Anna, if you’re open to characters—people—like her.

This is another book I love dearly.

Excerpt pulled from the thread:

Hilltop Manor Nursing Home wanted to kick my grandma out for biting a nurse on the arm.

Again.

That’s why I found myself inside the lobby of the two-story nursing home in downtown Detroit the last week of my Christmas vacation. I could be eating pizza rolls and watching old Christmas movies with my best friend, Silvia Nunez. I would’ve sold my soul to lie on her bed and paint my toenails. And I hated painting my toenails. But no. I stood next to Mom as she smoothed the creases in her pants for the millionth time that morning.

The linoleum in the hallway shone under the fluorescent lights as a breeze from the heater lifted the end of my ponytail off my neck. I wrinkled my nose. Though the janitor had tried to mask the smell of the place with some lemon-scented disinfectant, it hadn’t worked. There were layers to the smell.

Lemon. Pee. Lemon. Old people.

At 158 words, this is a great example of an almost-there YA—I have a sense of conflict and voice, tension and family dynamics, in a small space, without any confusion. I really enjoyed it, and I’d keep reading. I do think that the writer is letting a few details distract from the flow of events forward, though—remember how in all the excerpts each sentence matters, each detail contributes necessary information.

My suggested revision, which brings the word count down to 125 words:

Hilltop Manor Nursing Home wanted to kick my grandma out for biting a nurse on the arm.

Again.

That’s why I found myself inside the lobby of her two-story nursing home the last week of my Christmas vacation. I could have been with my best friend, eating pizza rolls and watching old Santa movies. I would’ve sold my soul to lie on Silvia’s bed and paint my toenails. And I hated painting my toenails. But no. I fidgeted next to Mom as she smoothed the creases in her pants for the millionth time that morning.

Though the janitor had tried to mask the smell of the place with some lemon-scented disinfectant, it hadn’t worked. There were layers to the smell.

Lemon. Pee. Lemon. Old people.

Do we lose any critical information? I don’t think so. As with any other shared excerpt here, details could have drowned the basics, the voice, the pace—but they didn’t.

Always cut what isn’t quite necessary.

Overall, this was good—the writer is giving us basics setting-wise, and likely moving readers forward in the next few paragraphs.

Excerpt pulled from the thread:

BAM!

My elbow whacked Chris’s forehead for the fourth time that day. He grunted and caught me before I hit the ice. Though I’d skated over half of my nineteen years, I’d never had so many collisions. Of course, until a year ago, I’d never skated with a partner.

I cringed and touched Chris’s sweaty brow. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.” He brushed his hand through his thick dark hair. “A little head trauma never hurt anyone.”

I laughed wearily and arched my neck, stretching the sore muscles. The cold air radiating from the ice wasn’t helping to loosen them. Looking up, my eyes honed in on the red, white, and blue banner above the rink:

Emily Butler and Christopher Grayden–2000 National Silver Medalists

Only four months had passed since Chris and I placed second at our first national championship, but it seemed like a lifetime.

This excerpt (147 words) needs a bit more focus, and as I read it, I thought more than once of the excerpt from ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS—Stephanie Perkins introduces an entire topic, an entire country, objectively. With a sport like this—and with an additional layer, that of dancing with a partner versus alone—the writer is introducing a lot of elements that are tough for readers unfamiliar with them to process, especially in context of the occurring events. It’s too much.

S/he has also introduced background information already without quite hooking us onto the activity.

The challenge, I think, is to take this piece by piece, making sure readers grasp onto one aspect completely—or without having to question it immediately—and then move onto another piece.

HISTORICAL

Excerpt from MILKWEED by Jerry Spinelli (Knopf/Random House, 2003):

I am running.

That’s the first thing I remember. Running. I carry something, my arm curled around it, hugging it to my chest. Bread, of course. Someone is chasing me. “Stop! Thief!” I run. People. Shoulders. Shoes. “Stop! Thief!”

Sometimes it is a dream. Sometimes it is a memory in the middle of the day as I stir iced tea or wait for soup to heat. I never see who is chasing and calling me. I never stop long enough to eat the bread. When I awaken from my dream or memory, my legs are tingling.

This entire excerpt from MILKWEED (96 words) makes up the first chapter in Spinelli’s wonderful historical set in Poland. While I think the second paragraph could have been a tad more specific in setting, it works just right the way it is written—we know that the narrator dreams he is a thief, and this creates tension, a physical kind of awareness for him (“my legs are tingling”). Spinelli introduces more concrete tension in a small space than most other writers I’ve included by hinting thrugh an action shot of a villain beyond the character’s immediate control. Again, no words are wasted, and while there are unknowns, there are no confusions.

This is a highly recommended historical.

Excerpt from CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster BFYR/Simon & Schuster):

The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up. That’s when they can hear us true, Momma said. That’s when ghosts can answer us.

The eastern sky was peach colored, but a handful of lazy stars still blinked in the west. It was almost time.

“May I run ahead, sir?” I asked.

Pastor Weeks sat at the front of his squeaky wagon with Old Ben next to him, the mules’ reins loose in his hands. The pine coffin that held Miss Mary Finch—wearing her best dress, with her hair washed clean and combed—bounced in the back when the wagon wheels hit a rut. My sister, Ruth, sat next to the coffin. Ruth was too big to carry, plus the pastor knew about her peculiar manner of being, so it was the wagon for her and the road for me.

I adore Laurie Halse Anderson’s historicals, and this excerpt (146 words) from CHAINS is evidence of why—we are introduced to the setting (in such a beautiful, beautiful way), local myths, multiple characters, and the current actions of those characters. There isn’t a huge sense of tension just yet, though first-time readers are surely grasping for further information regarding the clues offered here (“sir,” the pastor, the time period).

Most importantly, there is forward movement. Despite the introductions of the more general, overreaching concepts, Anderson makes sure that the characters are doing, making decisions, interacting. Every sentence contributes to knowledge that is necessary, to information that plays a role in the remainder of the scene—just look at that remarkable compactness.

This is just a fab, fab novel.

CRIME

Excerpt from THE HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter (Disney-Hyperion/Disney, 2010):

No one knew for certain when the trouble started at the Colgan School. Some members of its alumni association blamed the decision to admit girls. Others cited newfangled liberal ideals and a general decline in the respect for elders worldwide. But no matter the theory, no one could deny that, recently life at the Colgan School was different.

Oh, its grounds were still perfectly manicured. Three quarters of the senior class were already well on their way to being early-accepted into the Ivy League. Photos of presidents and senators and CEOs still lined the dark-paneled hallway outside the headmaster’s office.

But in the old days, no one would have declined admission to Colgan on the day before classes started, forcing the administration to scramble to fill the slot.

This is a wonderful beginning to a commercial novel. The first sentence is pitch-perfect, and I like that we’re starting with a “big picture,” which I think is easier to nail—and often more powerful—than starting in the middle of an action scene.

We get a great sense of voice (“Oh, it grounds were still perfectly manicured”—love that line!), and the last line in this excerpt (128 words) of THE HEIST SOCIETY raises so many questions and tensions. The entire Colgan community is characterized, and now we want to know who the book is about, and what the main character’s role is in context of the school as explained above. Again, not one word is wasted, and the set-up is very easy to follow.

THE HEIST SOCIETY is such a fun, smart novel.

Excerpt from PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King (Knopf/Random House, 2010):

The pastor is saying something about how Charlie was a free spirit. He was and he wasn’t. He was free because on the inside he was tied up in knots. He lived hard because inside he was dying. Charlie made inner conflict look delicious.

The pastor is saying something about Charlie’s vivacious and intense personality. I picture Charlie inside the white coffin, McDonald’s napkin in one hand, felt-tipped pen in the other, scribbling, “Tell that guy to kiss my white vivacious ass. He never met me.” I picture him crumbling the note and eating it. I picture him reaching for his Zippo lighter and setting it alight, right there in the box. I see the congregation, teary-eyed, suddenly distracted by the rising smoke seeping through the seams.

Is it okay to hate a dead kid? Even if I loved him once? Even if he was my best friend? Is it okay to hate him for being dead?

The voice here—oh, god, the voice. The laugh-out-loud, pitch-perfect-in-its-grief voice. The emotional arc and primary conflict are established in a snap of the fingers in this excerpt (157 words) from PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. And all the details—from the McDonald’s napkin, to the Zippo lighter, to the note and the attitude—capture readers’ attentions. I think in this situation it was probably easier for King to structure a shorter chapter than a long, drawn-out scene, as her goal is to offer this information in a way that raises questions and garners sympathy; she didn’t push the scene development.

This novel is amazing—and the rest is as compact, as considered, as well paced as this.

Excerpt pulled from the thread:

The woman ran through the dark woods in nothing but a white towel – definitely the wrong outfit for outrunning a homicidal maniac. She tripped and crashed to the ground. The killer stood over her and adjusted his grip on the machete. He raised his arm. She screamed as he swung the blade at her head.

Something bumped my arm.

I yelped and dropped the remote. I glared at Maximus, my seventy-pound mutt taking up more than his fair share of the couch next to me. “Geez, Max, you tryin’ to give me a heart attack?” He gave a soft woof that sounded suspiciously like a yes and pawed my arm again.

“Please don’t tell me you have to go out.” His answering whine was a definite yes.

“Can’t you hold it? We’re almost at the best part.” The woman was about to turn all badass on the freak.

I don’t this is as compact as it could be—we don’t get a sense of voice until the last line, really; everything else exists in the middle, and the first paragraph especially is very toneless. Refer to the example of PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ here—instead of saying “Charlie died, and the congregation missed him,” King digs deep into the personalities of those involved. We sense both voices, both characters, as if they were real people.

To make the most use of the space here, the writer should pick apart the scene—possibly even cut it entirely—and let us process the film clip by clip, increasing the character’s tension, especially since this is narrated in first person and we as readers need to follow the character’s emotions as much as possible. Include only what is necessary, and notice that none of the published examples included herein spent more than a phrase on day-to-day references.

SPECULATIVE

Excerpt from LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2009):

There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.

Them.

The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.

Like Kizzy.

This is another one of those excerpts that blows me away. How can you not want to read the entire book after this prologue-like introduction (109 words) to LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES, a trio of novellas?

It is compact, compact, compact like few fantasy introductions are (it helps that there isn’t an immediate alternate universe): The entire concept as it is executed here tells me more about the world than paragraphs of poor exposition would—goblins exist and goblins want particular types of girls (the contradiction between the two types is so spot-on—it feels familiar, immediately). The writing is drop-dead gorgeous but never, ever extraneous. It has a sense of mystery and melancholy that raises tension and captures readers’ hearts, and never pushes information. Taylor maintains a bit of a distance, feeding us the scene before we delve further into the stories.

Fantastic. I can’t wait for her next.

Excerpt from THE KINGDOM KEEPERS by Ridley Pearson (Disney-Hyperion/Disney, 2009):

He found himself standing next to the flagpole in Town Square, in the heart of the Magic Kingdom. In his pajamas. How he’d gotten here, he had no idea. His last memory was climbing into bed—it felt like only minutes earlier.

Gripped by a sense of panic, awed by the sight of the Cinderella Castle at night, Finn Whitman briefly recalled that he’d had other, similar dreams recently—always in the Magic Kingdom, always at night. But in his thirteen years, none so real, so vivid as this: he felt a breeze on his face; he smelled the wet earth of a flower bed not far away; he heard the distant whine of traffic and the buzz of a motorboat on the lake behind him.

In a way, this excerpt (126 words) from THE KINGDOM KEEPERS reminds me of a comment I made above, regarding the first chapter of MILKWEED: It wouldn’t have hurt to be slightly more specific. But specificity doesn’t quite matter in an example where the writing is quick and engaging, and the scene comes alive. Immediately readers are placed in the setting, in their pajamas, with the sounds buzzing around them.

While it’s not quite sympathy that we feel for the main character (yet), we are intrigued by his interpretation of these events, and are eager to see what happens next—eager to see what the heck is going on. Again simplicity is key—there is no confusion, just what we’ve been told.

Another really fun novel.

Excerpt from EAST by Edith Pattou (Graphia/Harcourt, 2005):

Ebba Rose was the name of our last-born child. Except it was a lie. It should have been Nyamh Rose. But everyone called her Rose rather than Ebba, so the lie didn’t matter. At least, that is what I told myself.

The Rose part of her name came from the symbol that lies at the center of the wind rose—which is fitting because she was lodged at the very center of my heart.

I loved each of her seven brothers and sisters, but I will admit that there was always something that set Rose apart from the others. And it wasn’t just the way she looked.

She was the hardest to know of my children, and that was because she would not stay still. Every time I held her as a babe, she would look up at me, intent, smiling with her bright purple eyes. But soon, and always, those eyes would stray past my shoulder, seeking the window and what lay beyond.

This is an example of an epic fantasy beginning.

In the above excerpt (164 words) of EAST, Pattou doesn’t complicate the scene with world-building elements. She lets it grow organically from framework that is important to her theme and novel, and maintains the scene as universal and accessible. We have sympathy for this father, who very clearly loves his daughter—Pattou is sure to establish that—and we also feel a twinge of sympathy, mystery, and foreshadowing when this darling little girl—with purple eyes!—looks past him to the shoulder. Oh, man, oh, man is this well done.

This is one of my favorite novels. Very highly recommended.

Excerpt pulled from the thread:

Chrissy was porting as Joel walked into the bar she asked him to meet her at. It was great for Chris that the whole city of San Francisco was wired to port at anytime now. She used to have to narrow her choices of where they drank, ate, or peed to places that had access. Chrissy was one of the addicted but that didn’t matter to Joel, she was hot and he would do whatever it took to be with her.

Joel slowed and let himself drink her in as he walked to the corner booth she had secured for their meeting. Her short red hair was sticking up all over the place, probably an accident of neglect but it suited her. She had her ice blue wireless port plug implanted into her temple and her pink button lips were moving furiously commanding code and building worlds for her to play in until she became bored. Then she would sell the experience or just delete the world. Chrissy was a perfectionist and a destroyer of worlds.

This is an example (176 words) of a beginning that needs to be completely reworked because it lacks significantly in compactness and fluidity. The writer is introducing a bunch of unfamiliar elements without describing any of them, without showing them work, and so whereas there is a lot of information being produced within space, very little of it makes sense, and very little of it involves the readers and lets them fall in love with the story.

We also are told versus shown an array of dynamics between the characters without being emotionally involved by either part—rather, it’s unclear which of the characters is supposed to be the narrative focus in this scene, which makes it even more confusing, and further contributes to a lack of grounding.

Excerpt pulled from the thread:

My best friend watched me in the mirror. Like all the other times I’d seen her in these past three weeks, tears streamed down her once beautiful face. Shivering, I closed my eyes, willing her to disappear. I wanted nothing more than to wipe those tears from her eyes, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t help her—no one could.

Rainey was dead.

A knock sounded from the bedroom door. “Karina, we should leave soon. Are you up?”

I tentatively opened my eyes. Relief washed over me. I was alone. I took a calming breath. “I’m coming, Mom!”

After an uncomfortable breakfast, we rode in silence to school. I glanced at my mother. Her forehead was so wrinkled it looked like tiny waves rolling across it. The thing was, we’d been through this time and time again.

I didn’t want to go back to school yet—possibly never.

This excerpt (148 words) also needs some work in terms of compactness—way, way too much happens here. Notice how the published excerpts I’ve included here do one of two things: 1) spend approx 150 words discussing a single topic or 2) cover a lot of ground generally (ground that can be covered generally because the specifics don’t matter).

The writer here is trying to cover a lot of ground that needs specifics, that needs to be drawn out—it’s a matter of pacing what is important. I don’t think death can be discarded so quickly—see the PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ excerpt—unless it is deeply contextualized within a framework that makes it relevant but not the sole focus of the scene—see the THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE excerpt.

I also worry that this kind of one-by-one “seeing the dead best friend” element might be a bit cliché, a bit tiring. Writers should always consider what unique approach they can take to add a unique flair or execution to their text, keeping it compact and accelerating.

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Main Rules For Compactness*:

  1. Never waste a word. (Line edit like a banshee.)
  2. To prevent waste, frame the novel top-down, whether in outline or in revisions—think strategically about the arc, as well as each scene, paragraph, and sentence. What is the purpose of your first scene? Your second? Is there any way to connect their roles into one scene?
  3. Effective forward rhythm—story acceleration—is key to connecting various ideas within one scene.
  4. Consider pacing and the role of a particular plot element—the introduction of a paranormal twist, a character, a conflict, a question. Spend time on the smaller, subtler aspects of your novel if they are important. Consider the role these various elements play within your text versus they way they are typically portrayed or paced in the genre or sub-genre. Why do you want to move past a particular event quickly? Not so quickly? These answers and the execution will determine how successfully compact your writing is—whether everything is portrayed just right.
  5. Voice—even in plot-driven stories—is your savior. You can spend time on explanations or introductions even when they’re not typical if you can make them interesting. Just keep them tight and specific.
  6. Don’t be afraid of shorter scenes. Start scenes as late as possible and end them as late as possible—if you have something that needs to be said, say it. Introduce it. Frame it. (Look to the LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES excerpt—that is one scene, one introduction to the remainder; it is brief but informative.)
  7. Keep in mind your reader: What does the typical reader know about the topics you’ve chosen to include in your story? Is it necessary to introduce them at all? If so, how early do you need to do it? What is the minimum number of details you need for explanation?
  8. Try not to include any backstory—or very, very, very minimal backstory—in your first chapter. Think, Forward movement, forward movement; acceleration.

* Rules always have exceptions.

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