You’d think after three novels I’d know the “rules.” (Actually, as NYT best-selling author Steve Berry likes to say about his ten rules of writing, the number one rule is “There are no rules.”) So let’s just call them guidelines.
I actually do know the guidelines, but I managed to ignore one of the most important as I pounded out the first draft of Blizzard, my work-in-progress.
Something kept bothering me about my opening chapter. I just couldn’t pin down what it was. There were two scenes in the chapter, and I kept switching them back and forth. Alas, neither one seemed like the kind that would “grab the reader by the throat and drag him or her over the threshold into the drama.” (Paraphrased from author Elizabeth Sinclair.)
As I read through the first ten chapters of my draft last week, there, suddenly, was my burning bush. It was so damn obvious I felt almost embarrassed to admit I’d initially missed it.
I’d hidden my opening scene in Chapter Seven. The guideline I’d contravened was that you begin your story at the point of action. You introduce your protagonist and immediately bury him in deep doo-doo up to his ears. I hadn’t done that. I’d tried to ease him into the deep doo-doo.
That’s not good practice if you want a reader to pick up your novel, peruse the first few pages and say of your lead character, “Damn, this guy just stepped all over his poncho and inadvertently put a dagger into the heart of his corporation. I feel for him, but I don’t know how in the heck he’s gonna get out of this mess.”
My hero doesn’t have a prayer, of course. Especially with an epic blizzard, a 500-year storm, looming for the Southeast.
Well, maybe he does have a prayer. I just don’t know what it is at the moment. I’d better get back to work on my manuscript and find out.