Tag Archives: initial situation

Beginning Against the Grain

It seems like so many authors are striving to make their novel read like a television episode these days.

There was once a time when novels were made into shortened versions for television or movies that hit on the highlights of the book. Now books seem so tightened that they read like a television episode. Editors are queuing books to read like every other book.

Call me a rebel, but I am not sure if I like this change in literature. There seems to be so much lost in it.

Classics were often written with vast amounts of exposition that made us reflect over politics and the nature of humankind. Now there are forced action scenes and dialog on every page.

I have heard some editors tell authors that we must cater to an ADD/ADHD society that has a short attention span. Probably the result of copious amounts of television.

Rising action, climax, falling, and a resolution…over and over again take precedence over having any exposition at all. Start it moving and keep it moving. We have loped off the beginning of our books trying to be like all the other books.


“Jane Eyre”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “A Tale of Two Cities”…just a few of my favorites. There are things the authors did that you don’t see often in popular fiction.

I have read a few quick crime novels and romance novels in the past few months. I honestly did not like them well enough to offer a review. Important elements in the initial situations were missing. The action started before I could care about the characters or their life situations.

Initial Situation

i: Characters: Who are the central characters?  What do they aspire to?
ii. Setting: Where/when do the characters live? Does the setting contribute to the narrative?
iii. Conflicts: What are the challenges facing the protagonist(s)? What are the conflict(s) that he or she (or they) will have to overcome?

The beginning is often called the introduction or exposition. By establishing the characters, setting and initial conflicts, the beginning “sets the scene” for the rest of the narrative. Dickens’ famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a classic piece of exposition that helps establish the social and political background of the novel.

Dicken’s set the theme with one sentence. I am not asking for three chapters (though sometimes that is actually nice IMHO), but at least give me that much.

I don’t like the direction contemporary literature seems to be going. It is the vast quantity that sells. The mass marketing television episodes of genre fiction.

I watch very little television for a reason. Give me something interesting to read, not a carbon copy of every other novel out there.