Enter Late, Leave Early

NOTE: Excerpted from my SENSATIONAL SCENES class, May 14-27, 2012 via Savvy Authors (reg/info at http://www.savvyauthors.com/vb/showevent.php?eventid=1375)...

Writers tend to include a lot of preamble to their stories. It’s like listening to a speaker “ahem” a lot before they start their speech, or like, “before I start my story, let me tell you about why this story is happening and why this character is so special...” Do this, and you are wasting the reader’s time. Readers will put the book down. This includes the agent and editor, who are your first readers.

Of the many techniques I learned from studying film and scriptwriting, my favorite is “enter late, leave early.” This means your scene is really just a middle slice out of a sequence of events (i.e. it does not contain all the events).

Let's consider a suspense genre book with a crime scene for an example...

Entering late means you jump into the middle of the action, leaving obvious elements, such as how people drove to the crime scene, for the reader to self-diagnose. At the other end of the scene, you leave before the characters dissolve their action/interaction and preferably on a high note, or ‘aha’ moment.

Another way to look at it is this: don’t show the hero waking up, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, locking the door, getting into his car, then driving to the murder scene, parking, spotting his partner, and asking if there’s coffee... Just let the detective be there already, in the middle of the most important dialogue about the crime scene. That is entering late (the action is already in progress).

Likewise, don’t show him getting back into his car and driving home. Just stop the dialogue when his partner points him toward the victim to be questioned. Then show the detective turning to see his wife. That is leaving early (the action will continue without us), so the reader gets a “whoa, what happens next” moment.

With the advent of Hollywood, the Internet, and multi-media sources of storytelling, readers are more sophisticated than ever. They are also more impatient. They want to jump into the middle of the mayhem. So get them there faster.

FURTHER READING / RECOMMENDATIONS
“Sol Stein on Writing” by Sol Stein.