Recently, I entered the first 1250 words of my WIP, SIMULATE in a workshop on Adventures in Children’s Publishing. It’s a great opportunity; five writers submit pieces, then receive critiques from their fellow participants and two professional writers. The stories were first posted two Mondays ago, my first revision went up this Monday, and the second revision (which I have yet to write) will go up next Monday.
Probably the best thing I learned from this workshop so far is to not let my beginning be boring. That may sound obvious, but I ignored that crucial piece of advice. My first chapter has a crazy cliffhanger that has my friends clamouring for more months after I read it to them. However, the first 1250 words felt a little blah. Here’s what people had to say about it:
I'd like more focus on the action, as well as perhaps a sense of urgency. Right now, it feels like just another routine job for your narrator,
It has a happy-go-lucky feel that doesn't seem threatening yet.
So far, you’re explaining challenges that aren’t really challenges, because everything can just be redone. Rather than building interest or tension, you are making it sound like the worst they have to cope with is an untied shoe. That isn’t what you’re saying, but that is the feeling you are accidentally conveying.
The first thing I thought when I read these comments was, ‘Yeah… this is a routine job for her. It is kinda happy-go-lucky; pretty much the worst thing that could happen is an untied shoe. That’s what’s going on.’
My second thought was, Why? Why do I need to begin the book with a routine job? Why do I begin with such a happy-go-lucky feel? Why do my readers want to read about someone whose worst problem is an untied shoe? Yes, the end of my chapter throws a huge wrench in everything, but there’s absolutely no reason why I need to wait until the end of my first chapter to hook readers. If I wait that long, I may never hook them at all.
In short, there’s absolutely no reason for my book to be boring. The excuse ‘Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be’ is no excuse at all. Yes, my book was supposed to begin with a routine job for my narrator. But why? Why start the book off with something boring? Instead, I should be building tension from the very first page up until the crazy cliffhanger.
There’s no reason for your book to be boring, either. Next time someone says it’s boring and you think ‘Yes, but that’s the way the story goes’ ask yourself Why? If there’s no reason for it to be boring other than the fact that you’ve always imagined it that way, then maybe it’s time to change your story. The tension should be stretched to the max at every point in your story. Don’t let any part be boring just because that’s the way you’ve always thought it should be.