Writers: How to Open With a Bang!

by | Oct 5, 2011

Today I’m pleased to have an article by Victoria Mixon (@VictoriaMixon), an editor, writer, and the blogger behind A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, one of WritetoDone.com’s Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Here, in an excerpt from her new book, The Art & Craft of Story, 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, she talks about how writers can make an impact.


What the authors of vintage pulp knew that literary artists were assumed not to know is that readers read for thrills. They want to see the characters dynamited, they want to see it big, and they want to see it now.

Although there was a period in literary history in which great artists could assemble their fuses, explosives, and igniting sparks at their leisure, these days the necessity for a quick bang! is taken as a given by almost everyone in the publishing industry. That’s what agents look for in manuscripts, it’s what publishers’ acquisitions editors look for, it’s what the marketers and bookseller reps who sit in on publishers’ acquisitions meetings look for.

Thrills.

Occasionally we’ll hear someone who doesn’t understand the industry very well bewailing this situation. “All you slummers want is sensationalist low-brow genre!” Or the other side of the coin, “All you stuffed shirts want is dry, high-brow literary gobbledygook!”

The Art and Craft of StoryBut thrill is what readers of all types of fiction have always wanted, as Edward Anderson showed us at the beginning of his beautiful Dustbowl novel Thieves Like Us, a romance, when Bowie, his insides twisting, watches a car come bumping slowly down the old dirt road toward him where he waits in his convict’s clothing under the shadow of a prison wall.

Anyone who’s ever watched a movie that begins with a release from prison (and they are legion) knows they don’t release you in your convict’s clothing. And so we understand this is a story about an escaped con—about thieves, we are told, like us. And this does indeed turn out at the Climax to be exactly what this story is about.

Dickens, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte. All canonical literary artists, they all began with a bang!

The Hook scene, although not the most important moment in our novel, is the most important moment in the career of our novel.

Especially in today’s publishing climate, when tens of thousands of newly-hatched aspiring writers are being urged and exhorted every day to query agents and publishers’ acquisitions editors with the first-draft fruits of their uncoordinated infant efforts at fiction, nobody in the industry has more than a few seconds to glance at any particular manuscript and decide then-&-there whether or not they want to see the rest.

“Am I intrigued? Am I thrilled?”

First scene. Character, plot, and prose must all combine in a primeval quark of almost unimaginable mass right there on the first page. We must ignite that fuse, make it short, dynamite our reader out of their chair.

We’ll have time later to pick up all the pieces and assemble the puzzle.

A. Victoria MixonVictoria Mixon has been a writer and editor for thirty years and is the creator of A. Victoria Mixon, Editor, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. She is the author of The Art & Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual and the recently-released The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual, as well as co-author of Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, published by Prentice Hall, for which she is listed in the Who’s Who of America. She spends a lot of time horsing around on Google+ and Twitter.

Fireworks photo by shinythings

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