Monday, July 22, 2013

Ditching the Setup

Howdy folks! I'm on a two day revision stent right now and whipping my WIP into better shape. Thank goodness for fabulous CPs and beta readers. What would we do without them, eh??

One of the things I was concerned with in my story was the first three chapters. I had reason to believe the pacing was slowed and there wasn't enough action. But I wasn't positive, and I still loved my first chapter.

I scoured the internet for some advice, and found this video from DearEditor.com. Worth a listen for sure. I'm highlighting a few key points you may find helpful if you're struggling with the same issue.

Editor Deborah Halverson says, "Ditch the setup."

Say what?? I wasn't even sure if my first few chapters were setup, but after listening to her break it down, I reconsidered. And it's not like I'm a newbie novelist. I've been writing for six years and on my seventh manuscript. Still, I fell into this setup snafu.

Halverson says most manuscripts she reads are guilty of telling too much about the characters up front, instead of putting them into action. Readers want to see the characters living in their world, and learn more about their personalities through revealing moments.

On the other hand, I know from experience that too much action up front is a turnoff. We need to get to know a little bit about the character (even if only a few lines) before they get in that car wreck, or find that dead body, or ->insert plot point of choice<- here. But we can also bury our readers in backstory and setup too early on, which slows the pace.

Halverson says to consider, for example, having your MC stuck in a tree and show the reader what resources or ingenuity she uses to get herself out. This is how we get to know the character. Find that perfect dynamic to put the reader in her world and watch her in action. Readers don't need a breakdown of how the characters got where they are. Just put the scene in motion.

I know many authors suggest nixing the first few chapters altogether and getting right to the catalyst. (not to be confused with the inciting incident). Don't know the difference between the catalyst and inciting incident? Check out YouTube for the Plot Whisperer videos. She does a fabulous job of breaking it all down. Plus they're free!

After listening to the full Dear Editor video that I linked above, I decided to merge my first two chapters and get the story moving faster. I still liked my original first chapter and felt it worked, and if I were a successful and well renowned novelist, I doubt it would've held back the reader. But since I'm just a squirrel-scribe with a nutty idea of being a novelist, I did what traditional editors suggest works best.

So how about you? Are you guilty of too much setup? Find yourself falling into little story structure traps you weren't even aware of? We all do at times. Tell me all about it....

34 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Yikes!! Now I too must watch this video clip!! Thanks PK!! I know I'm guilty of setting up too much set up in the beginning of my stories - it's something I fall for all the time!!

Take care
x

YVONNE LEWIS: said...

Wonderfully explained, I too am tired with my set up.....namely my blog.
Have a good day.

Yvonne.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Getting the first chapters right is hard. In my first manuscript, I started right into the action and several editors told me to start a bit before that in my main character's world before the action that leads to the fantasy. It worked better that way and I think for fantasies it can be a good technique. And it was only 2 pages. But otherwise, yes, I agree that getting right into the action is good.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hopefully I have a good balance. Of course I have to watch setup as fans of my series already know what came before so I don't need a lot of setup.

Libby said...

I've definitely had to ditch the first chapter or long parts of it at least. It's so tempting to tell as much as you can about the main character up front. You've lived with that person for months or years!

Mark Means said...

Ditch the set up, eh? That actually sounds like good advice...especially to an author (like me) who -might- go a little overboard on the 'set up' aspect.

I'll definitely give those videos a look...thanks for sharing :)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I ditched a "set up" prologue and tease in my last manuscript, and I'm eye-balling the beginning of the sequel. I originally wrote in a lot of explanation for what the characters were doing at the beginning of the second book -- and I recently cut it out. Most readers will be familiar with these characters from Book 1. They know and trust them -- no need to explain why they are doing THIS. Just let them DO it! :D

Jessica Lawson said...

My current WIP has too much set-up. I've suspected that's true and I'm taking this post as a sign that it's definitely true :) *sigh, I don't waaaaaaanna rewrite it* Isn't it crazy how sometimes you just need a little extra motivation...thanks for the kick in the pants, I needed it :)

Andrew Leon said...

I think we're too stuck on this idea of starting right in the action. The whole idea is overboard for me. Especially when it means having to have flashbacks later on to reveal the stuff that should have been at the beginning but was cut to get to the action.

Cally Jackson said...

In some ways, I agree with Andrew. I've read a few books that felt like they started way too quickly and my head was left spinning. As with everything, balance is key. I probably err on the side of too much set-up, especially in my early drafts.

The Armchair Squid said...

Hi, PK!

I have a friend in the comic book biz who says much the same thing, I think - tell, don't show. That's trickier without pictures but I think the basic philosophy is meaningful.

Any interest in joining a bloggers' book club? Here's the link: http://armchairsquid.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-cephalopod-coffeehouse-july-blog.html

Madeline Jane said...

I just revised my first chapter, so I guess I'll have to watch the video and see what I can fix. The best part about writing is that there's always room for improvement, and there's always someone to help. :)

Norma Beishir said...

I try not to overanalyze things. It leads to too much second-guessing.

sydneyaaliyah.com said...

I need to put this post into practice. I am so reluctant to cut the first three chapters of my WIP, but it's a romance and the guy doesn't even enter the picture until Chapter 4. Oh, what to do.

Mark Murata said...

Stephen King says that when he goes back to revise a manuscript, he ends up cutting out about 25% of the first chapter.

Carol Riggs said...

Yeah...I don't wanna hear it. LOL I like my first 2 chapters. At least if it's set-up, my character is in motion and interacting. :) I did finally combine 2 chapters into one, however (to end up with those 2 I like). Thanks for the link ideas! I hadn't heard of the youtube vids.

E.J. Wesley said...

Love the idea of using creative setups to reveal character. Basically, come up with a new twist on the standing in front of the mirror, brushing teeth trope. :)

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Deborah's videos are wonderful, aren't they? I think one of the best pieces of advices she gives is the reminder that not explaining everything up front actually gives the reader something to look forward to finding out. Sounds like your move was a smart one! :)

LD Masterson said...

I checked out the video, saw that it runs longer than I have right now and bookmarked it to go back to. Thanks for sharing that link.

Romance Reader said...

Thanks for sharing the video. It does have great advice re set ups.

Nas

DL Hammons said...

I believe a lot of writers include so much setup because they're afraid of using too much backstory to fill in the details later. In my opinion, backstory has taken an unjustified negative hit lately and is a very useful tool!

Nancy LaRonda Johnson said...

This is right on point in what I was considering. I like the way I start off my WIP, but felt I should start with more detail or "setup" for where they live. I'll watch the video and see if it gets me off the hook. Writer’s Mark

Crystal Collier said...

I have one book I chopped the entire first two chapters from. That was a hard lesson to learn. The book was just stellar, but the beginning totally killed it. As soon as you hit chapter three, it took on a life. Because of that, I spent about a year focusing on nothing but beginnings, and it's one of the best things I could have ever done. Of worth and definitely worth reading if you're working on beginnings, Les Edgerton's HOOKED.

William Kendall said...

I think I've struck the right balance with mine... though the setup's more about getting the plot in place.

William Kendall said...

I think I've struck the right balance with mine... though the setup's more about getting the plot in place.

alexia said...

I recently rewrote the beginning of my most recent WIP, too, to add more action. Not so much because the beginning was slow, but because I needed that action to set the stakes and show my character's tenacity sooner. I blended in more world building later instead of in the first chapter.

Also, congrats on landing an agent! I haven't been a good blogger lately, so not sure when that happened, but awesome!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is something I'm struggling with in my new WIP. I'm not sure which scene to start with (it's dual pov). Hopefully my CP and beta will tell me to cut the first chapter if need be.

Great suggestions, Pk, about what to show in the first chapter!

Beth said...

I'm worried about it my current WIP

Elizabeth Seckman said...

So either put a cat up a tree or the MC...I can handle that!

Excellent advice. Thanks for sharing.

cleemckenziebooks said...

"Set up Writer" reporting. I used to worry about how much set up I did, then I figured out it was my way of entering the story. Now I do tons of set up, then toss most of it, but it's all in my head while I'm writing.

Here's to a wonderful and long weekend. Also stop by and pick up a little something I've left for you.

http://cleemckenziebooks.com

DMS said...

Can't wait to check out the video clip- but I love that you gave us the highlights. I chopped about 15 pages off the front of my book once I realized I was trying to tell the reader too much. It is nice to have some information about the characters, but we don't need it all right away. :)

Good luck!
~Jess

Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Very helpful article, PK! I think it's tricky getting just the right balance in books. You need action, dialogue, etc, but not too much at once.
Happy weekend, everyone.

Mark Murata said...

Yes, I had to cut a paragraph from chapter 1 of a manuscript I just sent off to a couple of agents. That was after already cutting stuff out months ago. If you don't have a beta reader, one trick is to temporarily turn the manuscript into a different font. It will look different enough to help you see it objectively.

Pat Hatt said...

Setup has to be planned, whenever I do it, already have the next 50 things all in my head. Lots of storage space up there haha