Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Today's post is sort of related to the previous one in that it deals with things not happening in a book that really should be happening.

Lack of  "action".

Now, I'm not talking about things not happening in the book--in fact sometimes books with too much action fall into this trouble group.  I'm talking about ones with no real inciting incident. Hmmmm...even that doesn't really cover it.

The "lack of a start of action" books.  Now, I see you all shaking your heads, wondering what the heck I'm talking about and if a few too many brain cells have gone MIA on me lately.  But stick with me.

I've recently read/been reading two books by the same author in a series I like. On both I found myself almost a hundred pages in and never had that feeling of "cue the start of all hell breaking loose" here.

The book just rolled into a disaster, then another, then another. Even though I do like this author, and she does this all the time, it's annoying. And when I find something annoying as a reader, I pretty much figure out it's something to look out for as a writer ;).

1)  I like having a bit of a set up.  Even in books that start in full action and/or ones that are an ongoing series where most readers already know the characters and the world.(step back after the bomb goes off and get the reader nestled nicely into the world before the next disaster).  I like to get into the world before the characters go out trying to save it ;).

2) A subtle demarcation of  "oh shit- this is going to be bad" at the start of the disaster arc.  I don't need to be bashed over the head with it, but I (as the reader) want to see the line in the sand, the no going back, the we are sooooo screwed moment. In the case of this author (and she is not alone by any means) there just seemed to be a running from one problem to the next, no "start" and no increasing of the problems.  If you were to draw the plot arc these books would be dead--as in a flat line.

I usually come across these books in either Urban Fantasy and or Fantasy series.  Now not all authors with series books do this, but it does seem that when I find it it is either a fantasy or urban fantasy series.

So folks- watch it.  Don't just throw a bunch of events at your reader, start slowly (remember your introductory paragraph when you learned to write an essay? ;)), build to the start of the action, and keep that action ramping UP.  Your readers will thank you.

Thanks for coming by!


  1. Marie!

    Writers are told over and over again to show not tell. To start with action in order to grab the reader. Sometimes I think that writers take this to mean only action will grab the reader. So they keep that action coming as if the character's normal world would be considered too boring to linger on for any amount of time. Get to that inciting incident, proto. Characters running around like chickens with their heads cut off? No problem cause it's "action". Action = Good.

    As for the ramping UP part, that's where I have a bit of trouble. I'm working on that.


    1. LOL- very well put, Sharon! On some books I picture the old Daffy Duck routine for The Scarlet Pumpernickel ;)--"and THEN" what happened?

      I think most writers (myself included ;)) have trouble balancing the ramping up part ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  2. Marie,

    I love your expression "so screwed moment."

    Yes, many beginnings anymore are so formulaic, some sort of brutal hook.

    I'm just beginning to plot out my next WIP, a sci-fi paranormal romance. How I find myself deciding where to start the action is to first imagine where each character, especially the heroine, needs to start in her character arc. The opening scene is the turning point in her life: she first see the hero, gets to see why he's heroic, and she also becomes aware of a behavior she's forced into, a reason she doesn't like who she is.

    Beginnings and endings in arcs for my characters always satisfy me as first hooks and final endings for my novels.

    Thanks for your insight into this sometimes conundrum for novelists, when they try to grab the agent, editor, or reader with some dramatic action.

    1. Thank you, Susan :). Yup, I think writers are so focused on the "grab" we sometimes forget the "and build" portion ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  3. I have to be well into writing the book before I know exactly where the story begins and how to start it. I write a comprehensive backstory statement for myself before starting, and that helps in making the critical decision. A lot of the problem comes from people not thinking about the structure of the book in advance. Ann

    1. That's a very interesting point, Ann. I think you may have hit on something big. I usually have my beginngings more or less set, but with one of my favorite books the beginning has gone through some major changes--ones that improved it, but that I wouldn't have though of when I started it.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!