on Fiction University:
Sometimes really great advice is anything but helpful.
Which it should, as it’s great advice. But it’s also like saying, “show, don’t tell.” We know we ought to do it, but we don’t always know how, and those four words don’t help us with the beginnings of our novels.
This can be especially hard on new writers, because they might think they’re doing everything right, but still get negative feedback or even rejections on their manuscripts. “I do start with action,” they cry. “Can’t you see that car barreling off that cliff there? What do I have to do, blow up a planet?”
Maybe it’s the movie industry and all those summer blockbusters, but say “action scene” and most people envision something Michael Bay-ish—car chases, fights, explosions, people in dire straits. Action equates to people in crisis, so “start with the action” naturally equates to “start with characters in crisis.”
Trouble is, total strangers in crisis are boring. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know what their problem is, and we don’t know why any of the action is happening.
Which means we don’t care.
And opening scenes where the reader doesn’t care = bad.