Two things collided in my head over the weekend and, no, they weren’t my NCAA bracket and the grocery list. They were two instances of writing that actually said the same thing.
The first was reading the first chapter of the first Gabriel Hunt book, as written by James Reasoner. You can read it here. The second was watching “A Kiss Before Dying” last night. What do these two things have in common? Strong openers.
With Gabriel Hunt’s story, you expect a strong opening and Reasoner delivers. Gabriel and his brother, Michael, are at a black-tie event when a woman approaches them with a wrapped package. No sooner does she start talking to the brothers than a waiter holding a gun appears. Action ensues and, by the end of the chapter, you can’t wait to turn the page (or, in our sense, wait for the dang book to be published!).
Last night, I saw “A Kiss Before Dying” for the first time. On the surface, it’s not a movie that would appear to have a strong opener. You’d expect some introduction, some charming scenes before the killer aspect of the film starts. I thought that and I was wrong. This film follows the Elmore Leonard School of Writing: start a scene at the last possible moment. The opening scene itself is the latter part of a conversation between Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward. She’s pregnant. What are they going to do. Bam! You are there, in the scene, and at least want to know what happens next. That you know Wagner is going to try and kill her (whether from the poster or from Robert Osbourne’s introduction) goes without saying.
The point I’m getting to is this: we read all these reports about the attention span of modern readers or viewers. As not-yet-published authors, we are trained to capture readers’ attention on the first sentence, the first paragraph at least, and, by gosh, the first page as a last resort. Part of me wants to rail against this type of writing. Surely, I think, we can give an author time to work toward a plot.
But, you know, I realized this type of storytelling has been going on for a long, long time. It’s not a recent type of story-telling. It’s probably the most exciting type, to be sure: grab the reader and go for the ride. Be sure your seatbelts are fastened. Go, go, go! On the other hand, Dan Simmons' latest tome, Drood, is one of the other kind: long lead-in but it sticks with you and you stick with the story, despite the slower pace.
I’m taking the faster type of storytelling to heart as I write my next novel. It’s inspired by a short story I wrote that Beat to a Pulp accepted (and will be published in May). I am turning that story into “Chapter 1” and moving forward. I’ve been wrangling with how I should approach the story. Is it a true western? Is a straight-ahead mystery? Is it a pulp throwback a la Gabriel Hunt? Is it a steampunkish tale a la TV’s “The Wild Wild West”? The answer is: I don’t know.
But I do know that I’m going to try and grab the reader’s attention on page one. We’ll see how it goes.
Do you prefer story-telling like this or slower, leisurely ones?