Deep End or Universal Experience

ColGray

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I got some feedback on opening pages to a manuscript and the agent suggested that the opening, as written, threw the reader in the deep end of the world. She suggested something more universally human and then introduce the world through that "audience stand-in".

I swapped the opening and circulated it among a few other writers and I'm seeing a mixed reaction: some like being thrown in the deep end and some like the ease in to the world and then the deep end. One reader went so far as to say, <Your MC> is a stressed out mom struggling with money, i get it, but, I know what you swapped from and I want that.

Obviously, some of the reaction is the writing (new opening still WIP), but I'm curious about people's preference. I tend to love the deep end -- give me a Gibson or a Stephenson any day of the week.

How do others feel?
 
One thought: you're going to end up in the deep end anyway at some point. The readers who like what's in the deep end would probably like an opening set there. The question is, are the readers who don't like to be thrown in going to like the deep end when they finally arrive? Because if not, was there any point to leading them in gently?
 
Pointless to talk about this stuff in generalities. It isn't a writing philosophy question but a critique of a specific writing passage. And then a critique of its replacement. Either could be written well.
 
I like a little bit about the MC's background, then to let their character develop via their response to stressful events. For example in SF they might encounter an alien, a stowaway, a bullying crew member, etc. Or it might be the MC recalling something frightening that they survived by using their wits. Or they discover skill and strength in someone they initially despised.
 
It isn't a writing philosophy question
Isn't it? I know plenty of people who bounce off SF/F precisely because their first experience with either genre is getting thrown into the deep end of terms and actions they don't/can't understand.

I also know people who demand that immediate deep end -- a buddy framed it as, If the author hasn't destabilized me from the start, how can i trust them hit me with cool ideas later?

Put into a different genre context, Thrillers:
Deep End: The murder / the reveal of the dead (think, every episode of Law & Order)
Ease In: A fade in on the detective living their life/working another crime

Again, there's a reader preference over which is "better".

In my mind, those are different reader viewpoints worth pondering. Yes, execution, as always, matters, but this seems like a point of personal preference.
 
I began several replies to this question and came away with the conclusion that it is complicated. I will resort to bullet points
  • Some readers will prefer one over the other. Both exist. There is no right answer here
  • There are ways to write it so that it both throws the reader into the deep end and gives them a noodle to hold on to. You might lose some readers at either end of the spectrum this way, but might get the meaty middle (which may be what your agent wanted)
  • For myself, I'd have to read both before I could tell you which one I liked. I can't tell you theoretically which one I'd like
  • (Not commercially smart advice) Which one do _you_ like? It's your book. Write it your way.
 
Isn't it? I know plenty of people who bounce off SF/F precisely because their first experience with either genre is getting thrown into the deep end of terms and actions they don't/can't understand.

I also know people who demand that immediate deep end -- a buddy framed it as, If the author hasn't destabilized me from the start, how can i trust them hit me with cool ideas later?

Put into a different genre context, Thrillers:
Deep End: The murder / the reveal of the dead (think, every episode of Law & Order)
Ease In: A fade in on the detective living their life/working another crime

Again, there's a reader preference over which is "better".

In my mind, those are different reader viewpoints worth pondering. Yes, execution, as always, matters, but this seems like a point of personal preference.
I agree with Msstice. You can't game writing like a choose your own adventure.


To be reductionist, if the first was "too deep end", it could have been written better. If it's replacement wasn't as interesting to read, it could have been written better. "Deep end" is just a cue, not the solution.


This stuff comes up all the time. "Should my MC be more likeable?" That is not a reasonable question unless it is attached to a writing sample. You're just fooling yourself if you think you can assemble enough rules of thumb to write a book.


My suggestion: Look at your chapter with an eye to sentence density and clarity of paragraph. Aside from what's happening, are there other barriers to comprehension?
 
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Another thought - instead of modeling writing on general rules, why not just pick a popular book you like and follow its rules? That author got it right with that combination of density, language, pacing, etc. Flesh out that skeleton.
 
You would expect your agent to understand the target audience they are wanting you to write for. It's pretty pointless employing an agent and then not listening ti their advice.

Or you may wish to approach your agent and tell them you are looking at a different target audience.
 
You would expect your agent to understand the target audience they are wanting you to write for. It's pretty pointless employing an agent and then not listening ti their advice.

Or you may wish to approach your agent and tell them you are looking at a different target audience.
Which target audience likes deep ends? :giggle:
 
Oh, sorry, sorry: I framed this thread super poorly. I wasn't asking about my work--rather just framing the topic as I had come to it and have been thinking about it for the last couple days*. My intention was, I haven't really thought about this before, but is this a thing?, and wrote it as, Tell me what to do! Gah! Sorry everyone!

To reframe:

In a vacuum, and unrelated to any work, do people feel strongly in favor of/ against a novel dropping readers into the deep end of terms and actions and events, or, easing readers into the narrative through an "in" character or genre trope?

I'm not sure either style attracts or repels me so long as they're in service of making me care about the characters or the story.


*But also, it's weird how everyone else doesn't just follow my stream of consciousness/mid-thought jump off??? /s
 
In a vacuum, and unrelated to any work, do people feel strongly in favor of/ against a novel dropping readers into the deep end of terms and actions and events, or, easing readers into the narrative through an "in" character or genre trope?
I think the replies I read (and the one I wrote) answer this question: it depends on how it's done.
 
As the question has evolved into general advice re this, I’ll chip in.

I’m with Swank in this. Because so many of us are amateurs and haven’t gone through the publishing process I suspect it’s easy to rely on Chrons’ opinions which — not wanting to offend anyone, isn’t particularly objective.

One thing you’ll constantly hear about is the need for a ‘hook’ which I misunderstood till @HareBrain mentioned years ago that the quality of the writing itself can be the hook. I think this obsession with incident pushing the narrative is misleading and I stopped following the ‘I’m waiting for something to happen’ advice because it’s just inapplicable.

I think there is a lot of regurgitation of outmoded writing models. You can fit any argument to writing — too rushed; too slow-burn —- and also have to factor in people’s genre preferences.

For beginners who are just learning, Chrons is great, but as soon as you develop your unique style I’d advise the writer follows their own drumbeat.

I’m not sure if this goes for all, but when I’ve written something I already know the bits that are ‘wrong’ inasmuch as there’s a nebulous concern about some passage or sentence etc. Usually it’s a case (for me) to delete it. As I’m a discovery writer, a lot of my prose gets cut because it’s for me, not the story. That might be me just getting into gear, or working stuff out on the paper/in the narrative.

But, I do think openings — unless you’re convinced they’re perfect — hit differently when you’ve finished the novel. You can see the successes or shortcomings when you’ve finished the book.

And at the risk of repeating myself (gulp!) every person on our podcast (industry professionals and authors alike) are clear that these issues are not really existent in publishing. There’s a lot of luck.
 
I’m not sure if this goes for all, but when I’ve written something I already know the bits that are ‘wrong’ inasmuch as there’s a nebulous concern about some passage or sentence etc.

Yes, the spidey-sense is invaluable, if sometimes maddening. I've just spent a couple of days trying to figure out what's wrong with an opening. People I showed it to praised it, and I wondered if I was going mad because I knew there was something not quite right, but I couldn't tell what. It wasn't a case of just deleting it, because I felt its structure and function were fine.

This morning I got it. There are several lines of dialogue introducing the two main characters. The lines read OK and do decent work, but I realised they feel like characters who don't necessarily know each other that well, when these two have grown up together. They needed to spark off each other, to show they sometimes knew what the other was going to say, to show more humour. Probably the reason no one else could tell me that was that no one else knew those characters as well as me.
 
I have no strong preference either way - both approaches have their merits for different stories. And both approaches have lost me on occasion, when I ended up not caring about what was going on.
 
Generally the protagonist starts in his/her normal life and is dragged into the story by an initiating event.
So for me, I tend take an 'easing in' approach, but one must rapidly get into "something is not quite right in this normality". Cues must be added that something abnormal is imminent. We are establishing a comfort zone only for the purpose of being ripped out of it PDQ. That 'contrast' is the key.
 
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Generally the protagonist starts in his/her normal life and is dragged into the story by an initiating event.
So for me, I tend take an 'easing in' approach, but one must rapidly get into "something is not quite right in this normality". Cues must be added that something abnormal is imminent. We are establishing a comfort zone only for the purpose of being ripped out of it PDQ. That 'contrast' is the key.

This is pretty much the 'standard' way that stories develop; from the fantasy of 'Alice in Wonderland' to the science fiction of 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'. Every now and then a story comes along that bucks the trend, and dumps you plumb in the middle of Wonderland from the get go. Those stories are much rarer, and have to be very well written in order to hook the reader.

I'm struggling to think of one off the top of my head. Perhaps 'Nineteen Eighty Four' counts with the clock striking 13? But that's more middle-of-the pool than the deep end.
 
I think any Gibson book starts on the deep end. Many Stephensons as well.
 
I got some feedback on opening pages to a manuscript and the agent suggested that the opening, as written, threw the reader in the deep end of the world. She suggested something more universally human and then introduce the world through that "audience stand-in".
I suspect the issue isn't so much about throwing the reader into the deep end, as much as it missing something to help them engage with the character. Perhaps the MC is missing some core motivation/conflict that made it easy for a reader to relate/empathize with them?
 
I suspect the issue isn't so much about throwing the reader into the deep end, as much as it missing something to help them engage with the character. Perhaps the MC is missing some core motivation/conflict that made it easy for a reader to relate/empathize with them?
If the end is deep, there isn't really going to need to get with the MC. The ride is what is engaging, not the rider.
 

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