Last week I tried out a new crime writer (from the library, of course) called Meg Gardiner. The book was "Jericho Point" and it was OK. Lots of action and I particularly liked the details when her main character was beaten up - it's hard to write fast, real action and injury scenes. But the beginning was a bit confusing. I know, it might just be I didn't pay enough attention again, but we talk a lot in class about opening chapters and what they need.
Obviously they need action and story questions to keep the reader hooked and wanting to know what happens next. They also need a sense of the main character and what is going on - I call this "situating the reader". You want to know where you are in the story, and feel confident that if you read on, the promise of bigger and better things will be kept. You don't want to feel like the writer is keeping you in the dark and trying to be deliberately mysterious or misleading. I don't, anyway. I think "Jericho Point" is the second book featuring this character, and the writer had chosen to only gradually reveal what she does for a job, and why she's involved in this situation. If I'd read the first book, I would have known a lot of that. But in this book I was floundering for a while.
Sue Grafton always tells her readers upfront who Kinsey is - in fact, in "O for Outlaw", which I picked off my shelf, she says on Page 2: "Those of you acquainted with my personal data can skip this paragraph." Then she goes on to give a potted life history of Kinsey to date. If the O book was the first Grafton novel you'd ever read, I imagine you'd appreciate the information and would read on, not needing anything more.
Some would argue that what Grafton does is throw in an info dump, but I think a new reader does want to know that stuff.
Fantasy is a different problem. Not only do you have to do all those first-chapter things, but you have to let the reader know lots about the world of the novel without big chunks of explanation. How much is too much? Too much is when it interferes with the flow of the story.
I also read "Allie McGregor's True Colours" by Sue Lawson this week. A younger YA novel, Australian, not heavy on plot but focused more on relationships and the family vs. friends thing. Who is a real friend? How can you tell? What happens when your family faces cancer? An enjoyable read, a bit emotional but very real without being soppy.
And finally, I finished Peter Temple's "Black Tide" last night (I've got to do something while I'm lying down doing this "resting" thing). Very snappy dialogue, and a plot with lots of twists and turns. I do like Jack Irish as a character.
Writing (which can be done very well sitting down, while thinking about writing can be done very well lying down) has proceeded this week to the point where I wrote what I think is the final dramatic scene. The climax. The end of the search for the grail, if you like Hero's Journey references. Now for the resolution, the tying up of loose ends.
And then the rewriting.
It takes a long time before I can truly write THE END on a story.