The Poll Results Are In And I’m Surprised #amwriting

Last week, I polled readers about how they like books to begin. Granted, I have a small readership, and the poll had a small response, but I was surprised at what I learned.


Click here for larger picture.

There was a tie between “Conversation” and “Background material or character/setting.” So much for the “Readers want you to begin with action” accepted wisdom.

In fact, the answers were so all-over-the-board, I’d say my basic advice to what writers should do still stands: Do Whatever Works.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Begin a story with conversation and/or setting.




I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “The Poll Results Are In And I’m Surprised #amwriting

  1. Joey

    October 31, 2016 at 8:12am

    I’m not surprised by your poll results because they reflect my feelings on it completely! Do whatever works indeed.

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  2. Jane

    October 31, 2016 at 9:37am

    Great poll.
    I still say that I can often tell on the first page if I have to stop reading. That would be a bad opening, I’d say.

    So, general rule:
    Don’t make your reader hate you or your characters almost immediately!

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 31, 2016 at 10:21am

      Yes, sometimes I can tell from the first paragraph that this is a writer with whom I don’t want to spend any more time. Sometimes I’m wrong, though, and forcing myself to read on (because somebody whose opinion I value recommended the book or gave me the book or wrote the book) brings a pleasant and satisfying surprise. But the first page generally engages the reader’s trust — or it doesn’t.

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  3. Dan

    October 31, 2016 at 4:13pm

    “Do whatever works” works for so many things. I think we need less formula snd more good results. Works for me…whatever (sorry)

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  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    October 31, 2016 at 6:39pm

    I like to make a solid connection to a character, especially when writing multiple third-person pov, before anything else: yank the reader into the character’s head. That could be most things (except backstory).

    I think backstory works best in an omniscient pov – common in fantasy – where the narrator is important, and you want to see the whole world from the pov of the person ‘telling’ the story – and see if that person can actually do that.

    Here are the beginnings [and endings] of the first six scenes in NETHERWORLD:

    “You, sir, are on top of the world.”
    [But he knew perfectly well what Dana wanted.]

    I wasn’t supposed to see him again.
    [Leviathan. In Norway. Very far away. Very safe.]

    “What are you watching?”
    [“I forgot. He told Dana Lewiston—before you got home.”]

    “How do you pick the right woman? A girl in Ireland you’re going home to?” Dana, wide-eyed and innocent.
    [Settled is an illusion for the likes of ye.]

    What the heck did I do with myself all day before?
    [She felt lighter than she’d felt in days. Since he left.]

    He didn’t even call. On his head be it.
    [He had his chance to do this the easy way. Now we’re doing it my way.]

    Can you tell the scenes are from the pov of Andrew, Kary, Bianca, Andrew, Kary, Bianca, respectively?

    They are missing the italics I use for direct internal monologue, and emphasis, but even then I have:
    Dialogue: 3 starts
    Thought: 3 starts

    Each scene will be preceded in the book by a line header with the character’s name, and, where necessary, an indication of where you are in time and space, so I don’t have to provide those details immediately (which is, I guess, sort of cheating).

    My biggest task is to get you to go through 1000-2000 words in the head of each character, right behind the eyeballs.

    I don’t want to give you too much time to think. That’s MY job.

    Those first lines are not necessarily the first thing I think of when writing a scene, but once they come to me, the scene is pinned, and I can write the emotional journey from the beginning to the end.

    I have a lot of fun with it.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      November 1, 2016 at 7:21am

      MOST interesting — and thank you SO MUCH for a preview of NETHERWORLD. “Emotional journey” is the term, all right. You even make me feel with Bianca!

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