Book Done Yet?: The Unbearable Slowness of Set-Ups

Putting up all of these WiPs has given me a good look at a common problem in first drafts: the terrible slowness of setting up the world. It’s a conundrum: I have to hit the ground running with the plot but I have to establish the ground on where the plot is happening, not just the geography but the population. And although I have the first act to do that completely (roughly the first third of the novel) before I have to stop introducing new things and just start powering through the action, I really need to do some things in the first two chapters (roughly 10%), some things in the first chapter (roughly 5%) and some things on the first page (roughly first 200 words). It’s almost impossible to do that well in a first draft, which is why every first draft I’ve ever written has needed to be cut back. A lot. Usually by about ten percent, sometimes by as much 25%.

That means that the first page has to establish the mood, tone, world, and–most important of all-protagonist. The reader comes in looking for somebody to root for, and I don’t want to make her wait. I’ve never gone back and looked at all the openings of my books, but I’m betting the later ones all start with the heroine heading into some kind of conflict. Why conflict? Because two of the best ways to show character are action and what other characters think of my character.

So I have . . .
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