Guest Blogger Mark Terry
Is this a great looking cover, or what? I know Mark's excited about it, and I am, too, because the same artist is going to do the cover for my book!
I first "met" Mark Terry a few years ago on Joe Konrath's Blog. He has always struck me as a no-nonsense kind of guy, and very knowledgeable about contemporary genre fiction. His latest novel, the third in the Derek Stillwater series, came out this month and I'm reading it now. I'll give it a full review when I finish, but for now let me just say that the opening rocks.
Mark has been kind enough to stop by for a few words of wisdom today, so let's all give him a warm welcome. Take it away, Mark.
Launched Roller Coaster
Old fogey that I am, I remember when the only roller coasters around were ones where your car had to be hauled to the top of the hill via a chain before you could get that wild ride. From a physics point of view, the long haul up the hill stores the energy that is used for the rest of the ride.
Over the last 10 years or so something called a “launched roller coaster” or sometimes a “catapult coaster” has come into vogue. Off the top of my head, the one I’ve ridden on most recently was the Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster at Disney World. Basically, instead of the click-click-click ride up to the top of the hill, anticipation building, a hydraulic pump (or other varieties of propulsion systems) launch you from about 0 miles per hour to about 80 mph in about a second. Whiplash alert!
No, this isn’t all about roller coasters.
It’s about novels. You’ve got two choices (at least) when starting a novel. You can do a slow build or you can launch the reader. Typically, a “launch the reader” approach utilizes in media res, which is a Latin phrase that means “into the middle of affairs.” That is to say, you start your novel right in the middle of action and explain it all later.
I’m an advocate of in media res, but that’s largely because I’m writing very fast-paced thriller novels. I set the tone and pace by giving a reader a sense of speed and adrenaline right from the beginning (and try not to let up for the rest of the book). (I’m probably also impatient). My latest novel, THE FALLEN, starts with a sniper on a hillside watching a security checkpoint for the G8 Summit. Within a couple pages he’s dead and so are a bunch of other people. I launched, baby.
Although it works for me and the types of books I write, it’s not the only way, or even necessarily the best way. There’s a lot to be said for seducing the reader into the story. A little romance, a little flowers, maybe dinner, candlelight…. I think this works best for many different types of books, including straight mysteries, romance, and many books aimed at kids. Just don’t wait too long to get things moving or your agent, editor, and readers may give up, not a good thing.
For instance, in the Harry Potter novels, although as a reader it sometimes drove me crazy, the novels almost always started out with Harry living with his aunt and uncle in the Muggle world. The fun started when he finally got to Hogwarts. But JK Rowling was establishing the difference between the Muggle world and Hogwarts, she was showing the reader how different Harry’s life was between the two extremes. And that’s important, particularly in novels where a character is moving to a very different environment.
Now, I’m reading Jude’s novel in manuscript, POCKET-47, and like many PI novels, it starts out with some seduction: introducing the character, the setting, a client shows up, the case is presented, then we move on. Robert B. Parker wrote about 50 bestselling novels using the same approach. It works fine. And Jude’s book (and no, I don’t know yet what the title refers to) appears very character-driven, and an engaging character he is, too, rather than plot-driven. The seduction works well as complications build (insert sex metaphor of your choice here).
Can you give examples of each one?