When to press the trigger

  1. I'm not much of a dog person, but those pictures are absolutely adorable! Reggie is one handsome puppy, that's for sure! I loved them!

    As for your blog post…yes. I wouldn't say I'm a forgiving reader (heh, once I gave up on Percy Jackson 'cause it didn't interest me at that time), but I don't notice slow starts. There was a book which I absolutely adore, and which I lent my friend and through the first two hundred pages she kept saying NOTHING'S HAPPENING! I had never noticed that…it never went slow for me, haha. So I suppose it also varies from person to person (this book is Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, and there was an old, old blog post by her where someone told her that her first line's aren't attention-grabbing, and she commented on how she doesn't really go for hooks from the first line, but rather slowly integrates teh reader.)

    Run on sentences ftw. xD

  2. I've read a few books that are totally like that: it takes forever to start the story going, but once it's going, it's amazing! For me, as long as the "backstory" is somewhat interesting, I'll keep reading until something happens. Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it's not. But it also depends on my mood.

    I'm having a similar problem. I'm trying to write a story that has a lot of characters, and they all have an important part in the story. But I'm not sure if I need to show my main character meeting them all, or if she should just know them when the story begins. How should I introduce everyone? How specific do I need to be, and how much should I assume on the part of the reader? Would it be confusing for me to throw characters in there without an introduction? How soon should I show character developing scenes for them?

    Ok, that was a lot of questions… any help would be appreciated.

  3. It's fascinating how trends in boosk have changed. In the 1800s, it seems like every book started "I am born," regresses back to talk about ancestors, parades through childhood, and finally gets to the conflict around page 200. Now, the push seems to be to get into the conflict by page two (if not sooner).

    I'd bet money that if Jane Eyre was written today, it would start when she arrives at Thornfield (and I'm honestly torn on whether that would improve the story). Sometimes "I am born" makes me want to tear my hair, but on the other hand, I LIKE knowing about Scarlett O'Hara's parents. And Jane's childhood was interesting, though not as interesting as when Mr. Rochester turned up.

    All of which is a round-about way to say that, like anything else in writing, it seems that there are no rules. And like fashion, trends change.

  4. Someone on a blog I read said once that books are trying to compete with television nowadays, and that's why they start so quickly and can't bother to do all that lovely backstory and exposition. I don't know… there are points to both the quick beginning and the long one.

  5. I asked this before but you didnt reply…..
    How would you go about writing a love story but you have never been in love before? I really want to know how I would go about doing that!


  6. I loves this post because right now I am working on a story that could have been written in the 1800's as far as starting with a long backstory. I have been so nervous because even I get bored with some of the longer drawn out scenes. It seemed interesting writing it but looking back, I wouldn't even read it!

  7. @F, I love Princess Academy. Funny that your friend thought nothing was happening. On a couple of occasions (while trying to purge my book collection) I've read the first page to see if it's still worth keeping, and I end up having read the whole book in one sitting. Ha ha!

  8. @F and @April: I agree about PRINCESS ACADEMY. I feel the same way about Shannon Hale's THE GOOSE GIRL. I am drawn in by the beautiful writing and characters and don't mind at all that the main action doesn't really begin for awhile.

    It definitely does seem to depend on how invested the readers are in the characters themselves to determine whether or not it matters when the action truly begins. If I am interested enough in the characters then I'm not at all bothered by how far into the book the plot starts to really unfold.

    I have a question. While writing a first draft, I find myself constantly having new ideas for the plot that require me to go back and change several details. This becomes bothersome the further into the story I am, and it also worries me that I will lose some of the original integrity of the story the more I do this. What if, after changing a ton of details and scenes to accommodate a new idea, I realize that my grand new idea actually doesn't work at all? Then I need to go back and change those scenes back, but will most likely lose a lot of my original work in the process.
    As much as I try to plan my plot out ahead of time, I am still at heart an organic sort of writer; I discover the story as I move along. How do I keep from ruining my story as I come up with fresh ideas?

    (Reggie is adorable, by the way! I loved the pics 🙂

  9. @Angie: I keep changing the story as some ideas fail or I get new ideas. So for my first novel, I started with it being a fantasy with considerable emphasis on my MC's grey eyes (key to magic) and a magic-doing-guy called Magus (original, yeah). And about half-way through, he disappeared and nobody cared my MC had grey eyes. And by the end, she'd also acquired this ring which was a major major part of the plot but only appeared in the last ten pages.

    So yeah. XD

    And now, for my rewrite, I have the basic plot as the same, but the characters and their relationships are all different…so yeah, stories constantly morph. Rather than adding the changes in scenes further back, just incorporate them in the current scene and, if that doesn't work, drop them for later scenes. OF course, that's not a very good way to go, but it depends on whether you view this as a first draft which will have to be rewritten or first draft to be edited. 🙂

  10. Thanks so much for answering my question!

    I realize after reading this post that I do need to kill some darlings. I was reading over my project the other day and realized that I had a lot of useless scenes centered around a certain character because I am going to make his dissapear later in my project almost until the end of the book and I wanted the reader to get to know and like him so they care about him going missing when it happens…but I think I went a little over-kill on his character development…

    But I recently reached the main conflict at about 30K (which will probably be much reduced after editing). I sent the beginning to a couple of friends and said "please read this and tell me if it drags" so we'll see what they say.

    The timing of this post is quite ironic, I'm going to a writer's conference this weekend and I'm taking a class called "Keeping Them Hooked" so we'll see what the teacher has to say about my beginning as well.

    This post will come in handy, though, when I start editing my beginning for real.

    I couldn't help but notice, Ms. Levine that you said you're a plot-driven writer, but I have to say that I adore your characters (not that your plots lag by any means, but I've always found your characters quite charming).

    As for those pictures of Reggie, oh my gosh! He's such a cutie! Makes me wish my dog was still that young and small…

    Well, thanks for the post, Ms. Levine. 🙂

  11. ^Your comment reminds me, Grace, that I was just flicking through Ella Enchanted yesterday and fell in love with it all over again. It has all the elements of a classic fairytale that I LOVE, and I wish there were more books like it! I loved the ball scenes! 😀

  12. This post is helpful to more people than just Grace! I've been struggling recently with the same thing and I am very grateful that you took the time to reply to Grace's question.

    Thank you so much!

  13. Goodness, your dog is adorable! It makes me remember getting my own dogs! Thank you for those! He is very cute!!
    I have a question. Do you need a college education to get published? I mean will publishers look at your piece better if you have a college degree? I'm a teen (not old enough to think too seriously about college quite yet) but I've been thinking about it. Would an education at a community college be good enough for publishers?

    @Wendy- I think you need to ask yourself what the reader needs to know. Anything that the reader doesn't need to know, doesn't really need to be included right away.
    @ Angie- Remember that you don't have to use every idea you get on the story you are working on currently. Store ideas in an Idea Notebook. Also, everytime you really do feel like you need to change the plot, save what you had before. Then, in a new doc, change what you need to change and continue. This way you'll be able to have all the drafts and decide what things you like best. I'm also like you, I usually discover my story as I go too.
    Hope this helps! xxx

  14. In the story I'm currently editing, I started the first draft really slowly. I had only the vaguest of ideas of where I was going to end up, but it served its purpose of getting me introduced to my characters and plot. The current beginning is way faster – the action starts by page three. 🙂 I'm a little worried it's starting too fast, but I'm trying to balance it out with details and introductions to slow it down a little.

    @Angie – I'm the kind of person who changes a lot as they write. Usually, I start out with only a vague idea of where I'm going, and I end up with an ending that doesn't match at all! I wouldn't worry about rewriting your beginning repeatedly as you go along. I once attended a writing workshop where the person leading it said that you shouldn't edit a thing until your entire first manuscript is done. While I don't follow that rule strictly, it's good to keep in mind, because you're not going to get anything done if you keep going back and redoing the beginning! Just make the necessary edits to whatever comes next and when you revise, alter the beginning to fit your ending.

  15. Hi Ms. Levine,
    I am a big fan of your works!! I have read and reread all of you books, among them Ella Enchanted, Fairest, Ever, The Two Princess of Bamarre, all the the fairy tails, and I loved every single one! I especially enjoyed Fairest. The idea is so amazing.
    I truly hope you continue writing more books similar to Ella and Fairest. I love that magical, princess style. You haven't come out with a book like that since Ever! Please, write more! I have reread Fairest 11 times (I'm not making this up) and I yearn for a new title!
    Also, I was wondering if you have an email at which fans can correspond with you?

  16. @Angie
    That, my friend, is exactly my problem too. I think I've mentioned this before, but the biggest project I'm working on has been with me for FIVE YEARS (and 4 months, but who's counting?). Nothing looks the same as it did in the beginning–names changed, appearances changed, the entire terrain of my book's universe shifted, and I went from plotline to plotline to plotline. The thing is, I don't think that's completely a bad thing. I'm not actually that worried about preserving the integrity of the original story, because I trust myself and my abilities and therefore know that the new idea has more integrity, makes more sense, is more interesting, and will be a lot more fun to write.
    The thing is, at some point you have to stop and stick with what you've got. That (I hope!) is where I am now. I'm more confident in what I've got now than I ever have been. Now all I have to do is finish. Yay!

  17. Hello Ms Levine!
    This is my first comment, although I've been following this blog since September 2009. I've found your advice and insight very helpful, even if the problems being discussed are not the ones I am usually faced with. I stumbled across this site through a link on another website without having an inkling of who you were. Since then, I've read Ella Enchanted, Fairest and the Two Princesses of Bamarre, and love Ella Enchanted best of them all.
    My current problem is getting all my characters into one setting. The main conflict is already in action, and the subplots are too, but my main characters are divided. I need them all in one location to bring the conflict to a head, and I'm not sure how to do that, because it’s essential that they remain separated for the first few pages for me to explain their situations. Also, I've made the barriers that separate them so solid that I don't have a way around them, and the unpredictability factor vanishes when I try. Help?
    I hope that wasn't too vague. Thank you very much.
    Also, sorry if there was a double post, I didn't see it appear the first time I tried.

  18. @welliewalks

    No, your education in and of itself does not matter. What school you went to, what college you did (or didn't) attend, what grades you got, etc… none of that matters when you're trying to get published.

    What matters is that you can write well and tell a good story. An education can help you with that–taking some writing courses will help improve your writing skills. But the degree itself won't make much of a difference in getting published.

    Of course, this is assuming you mean publishing fiction. Non-fiction has a whole 'nother set of rules.

  19. Welliewalks–I agree with April, with one addition. College has other benefits. You learn what you wouldn't know otherwise, and the degree may come in handy for finding a job while you're waiting for your publishing career to take off. However, community college may do quite well by you, job-wise.

  20. Oh, I definitely agree with Gail. I was just discussing education in how it relates directly to publishing.

    But yes, if you are able, I recommend going to college… regardless of whether or not you are a writer (it benefits most people), or if the college is a community college or a university (there are many factors involved in deciding which is right for you).

    It provides life experience, learning to be responsible for yourself (it's different than high school, especially if you don't live at home), a degree to attain a job, opportunities for community service or to see the world, etc. It will help flesh you out as a person.

  21. Dear Gail,

    I love reading your books so much. I have been writing since I first read Ella Enchanted almost ten years ago. And I am so glad to have found that you started writing this blog, it's wonderful reading your posts.

    I am a college student in NYC, but I am staying to take an extra class at the college this summer. Do you have an favorite writing classes in the city? I would love to take a writing class this summer, while I'm here! 🙂

  22. Thanks, Sami, for asking the question again, about writing love stories. It allowed me to track down that wonderful Blog post. Even for those of us who have a love story, it's usually not worthy of a "fiction story." We must allow our daydreams space to breathe grow, and then be brave enough to let them live out in the open where others will see them. Gail's wonderful examples/tips/illustrations are exactly what we, and many others who struggle with this same issue, needed to know!

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