Let Your Readers In On Your Plot by Tammar Stein
When I was working on my first novel, LIGHT YEARS, I remember thinking that the action and intensity really kicked into gear around page 50. I immediately had the sinking realization that most readers wouldn’t still be reading by then. At that point, the entire novel had been written, re-written, revised, and re-read until I could practically recite it verbatim. Those first 50 pages were necessary to the arc of the story, I couldn’t just cut them out. I was stumped.
I looked to the masters. Not every book starts with a bang, what did other writers do? For some reason, ROMEO AND JULIET popped into my mind. Shakespeare tells us from the beginning that something terrible will happen, that our young lovers will die. And somehow, knowing that from the start creates this excruciating tension that carriers you glued to the edge of your seat for the whole play.
Shakespeare gave me my answer. I told the readers what would happen, the terrible event that would occur about three-quarters of the way through the story. Then I had them. They now had the faith to stick with me through those necessary 50 pages, trusting me that the story would heat up.
I’ve kept that tool in my writer’s arsenal. In my latest novel, SPOILS, I let readers glimpse the Kohn family’s recent past, when following their Powerball Lottery win, the money was rolling and the spending was unhinged. (First line: My parents bought me a dolphin when I was twelve, but I made them take her back.) Then a quick punch to the present, when the money is all gone, despair and destitution have arrived and everything is about to go from bad to worse. I let readers see the troubled waters ahead before we push off in our little canoe in a placid stream. My readers know that the calm waters won’t last and they read on.
ROMEO AND JULIET
By William Shakespeare
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
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