Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Hint #15

Kiersten White, bestselling YA author of PARANORMALCY, tweeted a writing tip that is a valuable one to remember.

“Instead of starting where everything begins, why not try starting where everything gets interesting? Origins are overrated.” (link)

This got me thinking about some advice that Bree Despain, YA author of the DARK DIVINE trilogy, told me once when I talked to her in a conference call. Basically her words ran along the same lines as Kiersten’s. Bree said to start the story on a day in your MC’s (main character) life when something changes. Something fundamental that will set up the story to follow. In Bree’s first novel, that “day” for her MC (Grace) is the day that Daniel returns after his mysterious disappearance three years earlier. And that “day” is where Bree begins Grace’s story.

It is easy to get bogged down in backstory and flashbacks and info dumps. It is easy to fall into the trap of telling everything about your MC’s life.

Don’t. Do. This.

You may think you are fleshing out your MC’s personality, letting your reader really “get to know” your MC. But really, all the backstory is only for your own benefit as the writer. Info dumps WILL bore your readers, and your readers WILL lose interest in your novel.

Don’t focus on the ordinary. Focus on the extraordinary. What is it that really kicks off your novel? When do things get “interesting”?

Start there.

Then run with it.


  1. Hey Kristin, you're so right! I remember in a screenwriting class, the teacher told us to start a scene as late as possible, and leave it as early as possible. You don't want any dull moments early on, or else you've lost the reader. That's especially true in YA since young readers have shorter attention spans and need the plot to always be moving.

  2. Phil - Welcome to the blog! Thanks for the follow. :)

    You made a great point about the shorter attention spans. It is so important to keep that plot moving forward for all ages, but especially for young readers. I like the advice your screenwriting teacher gave - start a scene as late as possible and leave it as early as possible. That is great advice for any writer.

    Thanks for the comment! :)

  3. i read kiersten's blog, she is so fun :)

    and yeah, i totally agree. with the last book i finished, i started it in the action (in media res...if i remember latin at all...) and eventually filled things in. it's a good tip!

  4. 20 Something - Welcome to the blog! Thank you for following. :)

    Isn't Kiersten's blog great? :)

    Starting your novel with the action then filling everything else in is a good idea. It could definitely help to keep info dumps out of the equation.

    And yes, "in media res" literally means "into the middle of affairs." I think it is certainly a technique to keep in mind when writing. Like Bree said, start your novel on the day things change.

    Great comment! :)

  5. Excellent advice. I read so many beginnings just describing the main character getting up in the morning, choosing clothes, brushing his/her teeth ... Or some long prologue giving the history of everything. The important thing is to remember to show, not tell. Giving a whole backstory/history is just telling the reader who the character is. The character's history should show through his/her actions and personality, instead. :)

  6. Brigid - You are absolutely right. Long prologues and cliched beginnings can easily turn a reader off. A reader is usually not interested in a "crash course" of the MC's life. I like that you brought in the argument for showing instead of telling. Your last sentence really sums it up: "The character's history should show through his/her actions and personality." Too true.

    Great comment! :)