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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How much should the first 13 explain?

   
Author Topic: How much should the first 13 explain?
RobertB
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There are loads of comments to the effect that 'I don't understand' someone's first 13. How much explanation does there need to be, given the lack of space, and the danger of getting into a boring infodump?
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TaleSpinner
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Enough to hook a reader--or a potential editor.

When I say I don't understand a first 13, it means I'm too bemused to be hooked and I would not read on.

I don't expect to understand everything. Indeed, not understanding can be part of the hook, provided there's enough understanding to be, er, hooked. For example, I'm hooked if I understand the MC's problem and feel sympathy for her, despite not understanding how she got there or how she'll get out.

For example, if she's met a Phnark and starts running, I'm kinda interested but not very.

If I know that a Phnark sports man-size pincers and eats people without discussing their preferences first, I'm concerned for her safety and wonder if she can outrun it.

If I know that Phnarks run faster than we do but are blind and rely on their hearing to catch their prey, maybe now I'm hooked.

If I know she's Earth's Ambassador to the Phnarks and her first contact visit is going horribly wrong because she didn't know they're blind and not fussed about what or who they eat, I'm hooked.

The challenge of course would be to get enough of this into the first 13.

(Darn. I guess I'd better go write it!)

Cheers,
Pat


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Bent Tree
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I have often struggled with this very question. In reading comments posted on some of the intro's in F&F, I get a sense that we often ask for too much.

A hypothetical example:
" I couldn't help but ask does the spaceship have wings? How did it come to land on said planet?"

It seems to me that if your intro induces these type of questions, you have done something to effectively entice the reader, because whether they realize it or not the questions they ask are due to there own curiosity. Sometimes these comments can be taken in the wrong way, I feel.

This is not to say that a question regarding something that didn't apear logical or contridicted something else in the prose shouldn't be re-evaluated.

I feel an intro has to successfuly create a foundation of some sorts. Whether it be setting a scene, giving us a sense of conflict, or anchoring us into the POV of the MC. Of course it is best to achieve as many of these goals as possible, but I feel that we may be conditioning ourselves to put too much exposition in those first thirteen lines. I sometimes look back at a finished piece and get a sense of the unatural feel of too much information in the first thirteen. That is to say it does not flow with the rest of the prose.

I have started to lean toward a more simple approach. Typically now, I focus on the POV character and try to make the intro as natural as possible from their eyes. The starting point is crucial, I have found with this approach. If we are not introduced to the story at a compelling point, this won't work. But a story should begin at a compelling place, afterall, The story starts when the character gets drawn into the plot.

Establishing a clear scene, a sense of location, introducing conflict and speculative element, are important, but I have read sucessful intros that have lacked one or more of those elements. I suppose it is all about balance. An intro starting with an intense dialogue of a phone conversation, can establish a clear POV, Conflict, perhaps a speculative element, but you may have no idea where the story is to take place except for a world where telephones are still in use. I could be an effective way to gain the interest of a reader though.


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Tiergan
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Yes, we all feel rushed too much to get the most out of our first 13. I think we need to slow it down, have one thought, two tops that we want to get across in those 13 and concentrate on those. If the prose is good, and the thought is strong, that should be hook enough to keep someone's attention.
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Doctor
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As always this is just my opinion, but it is a strong one.

I think we put far too much emphasis on what the first 13 really needs to be. And if we focus too heavily on it I've found we tend to rob something from it, I will call it life, or energy, or passion. It begins to feel mechanical, it dumps too much infomration, effectively it tries too hard. And it ends up feeling watered-down, etc.

So, these are my rules.

1. (the who) Try to give an established, clear point if view.
2. (the where) Give us a setting, even if it is simple and non-specific.
3. (the what/how) Give some sense of what the character is doing.
4. (the why) Give us the hint of purpose behind the actions of the character
5. Anything goes, any rule can be broken

The real goal of the first 13 is to begin to establish the first hints of the story, and - hopefully - to encourage the reader to keep reading. But that doesn't mean you must write a forced, hackneyed "hook" that tries too hard.

cheers


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annepin
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If you run a search on this topic in this forum I think you'll find some helpful past discussions as well.

For me, the bottom line rule for the first 13 is that it must entice me to read on. If it's too confusing, though, I won't read on. I think TaleSpinner's analysis is a good one. I am not, for instance, drawn in by weird words or a completely obscure situation where I go, "Huh?" The reaction of "Huh?" in my opinion is death. The reaction you want to elicit is, "Whoa, that's so cool. What happens now?"

So, to entice me, I generally need someone to care about, in a situation that shows promise of movement, in a setting that, for speculative fiction, seems inevitably tied to the events and actions of the character.

I agree that we get too hung up on the first 13. It's not necessary to incorporate _all_ information--it's not even possible. Better keep a balance and consider, what does my story need right here, right now?


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Doctor
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Well put.
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arriki
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I think annepin summed it up nicely. The reaction you want from a reader, any reader is --

Whoa, that's so cool. What happens now?

It doesn't matter whether what you just read was two people talking or a bit of narrative worldbuilding. It doesn't make a difference if it is action or plain information, if it causes the above reaction...you're in! You got 'em hooked.


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InarticulateBabbler
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What I have to know (as has recently been distilled in an introduction) is

Who are they and why are they there? By proxy I have to know where there is (inside outside, sidewalk bedroom type of thing).

The questions you see littering most thirteens are about directions that sidetrack from that. What happens next? is a good question; What's happening here? is a bad one.


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