Start in the Middle of the Action… and 3 ways to find it.

To help with my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,’ please comment with your favorite examples of high-action opening techniques. In the meantime, see Friday’s guest post on Cow Pasture Chronicles to cure your Writer’s Block by watching TV.


Even the most invested reader can lose interest in a slow opening chapter.

When I was teaching, I used to tell my students that readers and writers share a responsibility. I was quite pretentious about it, in retrospect; I tried to convince them that they needed to invest their attention into six or eight soliloquies before they could reward themselves with Hamlet double-crossing poor old Rosencrantz, or with Ariel taking Prospero’s revenge on the invaders. In order to enjoy those moments of action, after all, one would surely need an investment in understanding of the characters and the situations that motivate them. Wouldn’t one?

Perhaps one would, but it seems that literary agents don’t.

Several agents have given me feedback that leads to the third common phrase of advice in my series: ‘Start in the Middle of the Action.’ This may be the one that troubles me the most when I am writing my opening chapters. My obligation to provide background for readers clashes with my obligation to entertain them, until every attempt to balance the two seems like a compromise. Many of my opening chapters, in fact, have a current of apology in them, as if I am asking the readers to “just hang on” until things make more sense. Here are three of the cheats I have tried: Continue reading