Must We Start Where The Action Is

We have all heard it said repeatedly start where the action is, but then how many novels do you pick up or movies do you watch that don't necessarily follow that advice?  They start off with a relaying of back story, or slower-paced narrative where the author is trying to pull us into the character's life.  What they are trying to do is make you connect so that when something does happen you're involved, you care.  Does this work?  In my opinion, sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don't.

We know that writing is a subjective business - some will love our work while others will hate it.  I believe the start of our work falls under the same category - subjective.  But, it's up to us the writer to make it something that will draw in the reader and keep them turning the pages whether this be a complicated character, or an intense gun fight.

So what is the difference between a successful "slow" start, and an unsuccessful one?  Conflict.  Without that we risk having a flat narrative with nothing to yank the reader into the world we've created.  A conflict needs to be resolved, or handled.  We want to know how the character is going to overcome a situation, or deal with it.

So, what about you?  How do you normally begin your novels?  Do you follow the advice of starting where the action is or do you start slower while riddling in enough conflict to draw in your reader?


  1. I usually start with the slower, but showing conflict group. I think the tension is enough to bring readers forward in the book, while also giving them a way to start knowing and caring (or hating) characters.

  2. Every time I try to begin my novel with a character profile, to as you say, make the main character likable, it doesn't work and I have to rejigger. Like you, I write thrillers, so I figure it's one of the requirements for the thriller genre not required of literary fic.

  3. in my 11yo son's words, "i hate starting a new book, it's all here's this guy who is like this and bla bla bla, i'm skipping the first few pages"
    i try to use an incident or small event or bit of excitement to "hook" a reader cause i like to read that too =)

  4. I try to begin with a pre-Conflict event that leads the character to the conflict. The conflict that occurs isn't the main conflict of the story, but it will later introduce it to my main problem. If that made any sense at all, that's just me and my writing style.

  5. The majority of my stories start slower before getting into the action stuff. That whole balance of introducing characters and world while keeping enough there to make people want to read on is, as you said, very important.

  6. Thank you to all for your comments. It's reassuring to know you don't have to jump in right in the middle of something all the time. The "rules" can weigh us down sometimes and not let the story flow the way they should.

  7. It's like you were in my head with this post. My first finished book I started out with just a few chapters trying to set the scene and was told that it was too slow. Not enough going on to capture the reader. In my current writing project I started out with all action and was told that it was too abrupt. There was no lead up to the action.
    Can't win.
    Found you through Tara. Best of luck with everything.

  8. Welcome to my blog Heather :) It definitely is hard finding that balance. Best of luck to you as well. :)


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