Baby You Can Drive My Car

. . . Just don’t drive it to your story. This tool, to introduce a main character as he travels to 1) old childhood home 2) the troubled town or 3)the big city, happens so much I’m surprised it hasn’t landed on Letterman’s Top Ten Things Not to Do List. As we discussed in the last post, beginning your story in the middle of the action or in media res, is a not-so-subtle hint to speed things up.
Writing Tip for Today: Everything I say on this blog is intended to help writers master skills. So when I say “don’t drive to the story,” I mean in your revisions. In draft, drive all you want, just know you’ll probably need to look for a better jump-off spot. How, you ask, can writers get precious background info relayed if the character is doing something besides gazing out a window?

  • Learn to Weave. I say this again and again. You can insert tiny packets of back story/motivation or other info in and around your character in action. By keep things separate (first I describe my character, problem, etc. Then I start the action), you’re toying with your readers’ attention span. Readers want to know as little as possible and they want to see action early.
  • Narrative Chunks Are Like Icebergs. If you see that your opening involves pages and pages of narrative–stuff that isn’t action–be willing to divert your novel’s ship around that iceberg. Take it from me, long opening narratives are best left to Pulitzer Prizes winners.
  • Don’t Throw Your Character Under the Bus. You want to get your reader in sympathy with the character as early as possible. Ask yourself why you need a scene where the bus rolls into town, the car turns up a winding driveway to home or other static ideas. To keep your character away from interacting with your novel’s players is to risk throwing that character under the bus.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Baby You Can Drive My Car

  1. I did a travel home scene at the beginning of my first novel. Some who are writers have criticized for the reasons you stated. People who are not writers seem fine with it. I had one writer say, “I kept critiquing the book in my mind, but then when I decided to stop and just read the book I liked it.”

    I am not starting the sequel to the first book with a similar scene, but I get a chuckle out of my husbands observation that, “Have you ever noticed that in America everyone’s a critic?”

  2. weaving is so much better than laying a whole lot of back story out in a ‘reflective’ first chapter. It takes perseverance for me to read a book like that (which is not a good thing to ask of your readers!)

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