Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Can a slow burn be attention grabbing?


Charles Daly sent in a question regarding plot and his opening chapter: I'm writing a thriller but the start of my story is more of a slow-burn suspense atmosphere as the hero is lured to Hong Kong to start a mysterious new job. However, agents and publishers alike seem to demand more of a show-stopping grabber in chapter one, or at least that's what is required to get noticed. How can I satisfy both the demands of the story and the publishing industry? Should I mess around with timelines in chapter one? Flashbacks, flash forwards, etc, to bring in some high-octane action? Any help gratefully received!

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this question when comes to the various devices you could use to make the opening to your novel attention grabbing, if that is how you decide to open your story. But that phrase, attention grabbing, is the important bit of the sentence. Agents and publishers want a reason to read on. What they are looking for first and foremost is quality of writing. They don’t necessarily want a high octane show-stopping grabber, but they do need to be presented with something that makes them keen to find out what happens next.

You can do this by letting the reader know that something is not quite right about the mysterious new job, but what you can’t do is present several pages of your hero travelling to Hong Kong without giving a strong hint of troubles to come.

An atmosphere of slow-burn suspense can give a compelling sense of foreboding, when handled correctly. If your character comes to life on the page, so that the reader believes in him, and you’ve added in the elements of mystery, your readers will be on edge as he moves across the world to take up his new position.


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