evaluate writing advice before rewriting

Since I’ve joined the online writing community, I’ve noticed clumps of advice that come in waves, the latest of which is “start with action,” meaning, of course, to start your novel with some sort of action-related event. This is good advice, so long as the action doesn’t involve anyone waking up, you avoid all tropes, and entertain no backstory in those first pages.


That leaves running, jumping, slamming doors and other acts that are quite meaningless without context. However, so many aspiring writers followed the “start with action” mantra, experienced editors, agents, and writers soon began writing blog posts to elaborate on the advice and say that context must accompany action.

Well, duh.

My own editor, whose suggestions I generally treat with the same reverence as people give to religious creeds, suggested that I move an action sequence to the beginning of my novel. I gave her advice deep consideration and compromised by moving some of the earlier exposition and description to other places in the first chapter. This relocated the sequence she liked closer to the opening, but I did not open with that particular sequence, because it moved the story too fast.

I evaluated her advice first against my genre, and the horror authors I admire: M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Mannetti, Robert Dunbar, Sarah Waters (there are many more, but I have to stop somewhere). They don’t start with slamming doors or gutted teenagers; that’s for Friday the Thirteenth/Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Cheap thrills.

These authors create a mood in those first pages. They acclimate the reader to a dark setting and give the reader time to absorb the environment. The tension inexorably rises throughout the novel until the climax. They use cheap thrills sparingly, focusing instead on crafting the atmosphere of the novel.

Then I evaluated her advice against my story. I move into the action of my novel quickly. However, those first paragraphs are vital in entrenching my reader both in Woerld and in Lucian’s mind-set. If you don’t fully understand where he is and why he feels his despair so acutely, you will not understand his actions several pages later.

I’m not saying that starting a novel with action is a bad idea, nor am I saying that writers should discount every wave of writing advice. What I am saying is this: whenever writing advice comes flying through Twitter or other blogs, don’t immediately jump on the bandwagon. Evaluate the advice against your against your genre, then against your story. Then rewrite, if necessary.

So how do you evaluate the tons of writing advice flying through cyber-space? Do you immediately re-write your opening to conform to the latest trend or do you consider the advice against genre and story?

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About T. Frohock

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11 Responses to evaluate writing advice before rewriting

  1. Kelly Bryson says:

    That’s all fine, as long as you never ever ever use adverbs. We all know that those are the devil’s words. Maybe Katarina could use adverbs, now that I think about it. But none of your good characters. -she said cheekily.

    • Teresa says:

      Hee, the devil’s words, I like that. I may write a short-story where Satan only speaks in adverbs . . . that should fun. 😉

  2. I think an attention grabber in the opening of a book is great, yet it doesn’t mean someone has to get stabbed in the face! It can be subtle, very subtle in fact. A creepy mood, such as you described, can really nab a reader. To me, mood or environment can be everything in a book. If in the first few pages, if I don’t feel like it’s somewhere I want to be (and yes, sometimes I want to be somewhere creepy), it makes it hard to keep reading!


    xoxo — Hilary

    • Teresa says:

      Hi, Hilary!

      You’re absolutely right. I’m often drawn in by the creepiness of a setting before an ax in the face. Then again, it depends on your audience! Mysteries and thrillers really need that high impact opening, that’s what those readers are looking for, but with other genres, it can be more subtle and just as effective.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I know you’re busy with Nightshade City’s upcoming release!

  3. Joseph says:

    Advice is invariably questionable. I always evaluate it carefully. I never rewrite immediately. I consider my story primarily, my genre partially and my readers incidentally. Agents and editors I disregard entirely. Which is why I live purely but impecuniously and comment on writers’ blogs rarely.

    • Teresa says:

      Well I do appreciate you taking a moment to comment here, Joseph.

      I must say I enjoy several agents and editors’ blogs, because I invariably learn something. I think you’re right in that all advice should be evaluated carefully and applied to the work in question according to the author’s preferences.

      Thank you again.

  4. Peter Cooper says:

    That’s a good cautionary note.

    As helpful as I found OWW, I did notice that particular fads that would show up over and over in critiques – the big one for me was people insisting you should never use words ending in ‘ing’. Someone, somewhere, had read about the dangers of present participial phrases and assumed that meant any and every participle was a bad thing. It nearly drove me mad.

    Listen. Filter. Listen. Filter. Otherwise you end up writing somebody else’s book.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Peter!

      I was under constant attack from the “no backstory” people, so I know exactly what you mean. I think you’re spot on with Listen, Filter, Listen.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. lawrenceez says:

    Hi, I would choose the opening you feel most passionate about. Every agent/publisher is different. Write what you enjoy and don’t pay too much attention to all the advice.

    Best wishes,


  6. tikiman1962 says:

    In contemplating opinions, the dictum “Consider the source” is significant. I don’t write the type of horror stories you do, Teresa, but I’ve read Poe and several Gothic writers from the 19th century. Mood was far more important than action.
    As far “start with action”, that’s a heavy burden. What if the follow-up action does not meet the lust of the opening? You’ve disappointed the reader.
    I believe an opening line or paragraph with enough inquisitiveness catches attention and causes interest.
    My transgressive dark comedy WEEKEND GETAWAYS, OR ADVENTURES IN CONTRACT KILLING starts with the line:

    “I never gave much thought to killing people outside of the usual.”

    No one actual gets killed in the first chapter but there’s enough there to tickle the fancy.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi HB,

      I think you’ve made several good points. I believe with YA and mysteries/thrillers, you should start with an exceptionally strong hook, and that often includes action.

      I love your first line! ;-D

      Thanks for stopping by!

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