Biff, Pow, Bam; how not to begin a story.

The books I most enjoy reading have one or two things in common:  characters I enjoy so much I’d rather hang out with them than do anything else and/or such a compelling plot that I resent anything – like fatigue at 2:00am – that forces me to put the book down.

At writer’s conferences, critique groups, and blogs or newsletters devoted to the craft of writing, a common piece of advice emphasizes the effort to construct a thrilling plot: “Throw out the first three chapters of your story and begin in the middle of the action or conflict.”

Here’s a refreshing take that advances the primacy of character, the factor that seems central to the few special books I read again and again.

It’s probably the most over-repeated and cliche advice—so much so that writers have come to hate hearing it: Start with action.

I’ve critiqued hundreds, maybe thousands, of first pages, and this advice is most to blame for story beginnings that leave the reader in a quivering mass of Why-the-Hell-Do-I-Care-About-This?

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