Releasing your inner dragon

Common mistakes writers make with their opening chapters

February 15, 2024 Marie Mullany & Maxwell Alexander Drake Season 4 Episode 5
Common mistakes writers make with their opening chapters
Releasing your inner dragon
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Releasing your inner dragon
Common mistakes writers make with their opening chapters
Feb 15, 2024 Season 4 Episode 5
Marie Mullany & Maxwell Alexander Drake

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Join Drake and Marie as they discuss opening chapters and why they put a book down or continue reading.

Writer's room (50% off for lifetime membership):

Membership for Just In Time Worlds:

Give us feedback at releasingyourinnerdragon(at)gmail(dot)com


Drake's Contact Details:
Starving Writer Studio:
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Writer's Room:

Marie's contact details:
Just In Time Worlds:

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Join Drake and Marie as they discuss opening chapters and why they put a book down or continue reading.

Writer's room (50% off for lifetime membership):

Membership for Just In Time Worlds:

Give us feedback at releasingyourinnerdragon(at)gmail(dot)com


Drake's Contact Details:
Starving Writer Studio:
Drake-U:  - Use RYID25 for 25% off!
Writer's Room:

Marie's contact details:
Just In Time Worlds:

And I've said this before in here when I'm when I'm out doing a convention and teach in front of bunch of people and this comes up, I will always ask, and these are geeks, these are fantasy geeks. I'll be like, by show of hands, how many people in the room have started reading Lord of the Rings, but never finished half half
The hands go up. So 50% of everyone who's ever bought Lord of the Rings has never finished it.
I don't want to write that book.
Welcome to Releasing Your Inner Dragon, the podcast that intersects imagination and narrative. I'm Marie Mullany. Your guide in the world of fantasy creation.
Join us as we explore the magic of narrative
And I'm Maxwell Alexander Drake, and we're here to guide you through the craft of storytelling,
Bringing you insights and techniques from the vast and varied world of creative writing
and unlock the secrets of the writer's craft.
So. Drake, you have just flipped open a new book and you read the first paragraph. What is the thing that makes you put the book down and walk out the bookstore?
So I haven't bought it yet.
Which is good.
You haven't even bought it.
And I'd be even more angry if I had paid for this.
Well, for me.
It is always what you call borrowing future tension. I call it raping future tension like it's terrible. The 12 hours earlier is just the worst. When you start off with an event that's going to happen later, the hero gets killed and then we're going to go back or whatever. That's. You don't see it as much and written as you do in video.
For whatever reason, TV tends to just plunder that horrible trope that does nothing. It never works. It never, ever one time works. There's no examples of it being good except for breaking Bad. But that's not really there's no tension that you're borrowing. You're just doing some weird abstract thing that just makes them go, What the crap? Like we talked about with the teddy bear.
The burnt teddy bear floating in the pool. You're not borrowing any tension. The problem with it in pros is it takes longer to realize you've been duped. So it's not you don't get this in the first paragraph. You get like this event happening. You're like, this is interesting. wow. Okay.
he got shot.
And then there's a scene break of, you.
Know, four weeks before, like.
but that's like page seven that you've already gotten to, to get to that point to realize that they.
Did something horrible to you. So it's not necessarily the first paragraph, but that is definitely something that I've read. And when I get to that, I'm done. I will never read that author. I will never read that author again because you have betrayed me. But there are other instances that are a little bit more obvious that are kind of the same thing, the dream sequence where I'm going to dream about my house being on fire and I can't get in and my wife and children are in there and they're dying and look at me now you really care about me because I cared about these other people that you don't even have any idea
who they are. So I guess the dream sequence would be easier to see on that first paragraph.
Yeah, I, I have. I have a problem with borrowing tension from the future, but it's related to my larger problem of flashbacks. And I'll tell you and our listeners a thing that a publishing agent once said at a like a show that I went to, which was it impacted me in an enormous way. So I hope that this will impact you as well out there.
That said, if you need to flash back to your characters past in the first chapter, you have started your story in the wrong place. You should start your story. Either, the reader doesn't need this information, in which case you need to cut it or you need to, or the reader really does need this information and you need to start the story with the flashback started.
Let me take a side note.
Something happened last night in the writers room. You are brought up often in the writers room because everyone there is listening to our podcast, so they get me live. But you're kind of the surrogate critiquer and this one person read a piece and everyone agreed that there was this old crone that was mentioned in this situation, but it happens on like page three.
And we were like, Man, that's that's the interesting part. That's the thing that I should have that would have kept me reading as opposed to the first three pages that I just kind of had to slog through. And so I came up with an idea.
Of because it.
Happens basically she's at this shrine that's hard to get to, and she's been prostrating for days. And, you know, that's where it starts. And it actually starts off with something hitting her and waking her kind of out of her trance. That's the first opening line, is she gets hit and and then, you know, you're in this shrine and you’re way up in the mountains and all this other stuff.
And then later you find out that she was in, you know, soothsayers, hut. And the soothsayer gave her this thing, you know, what to do, to say, to do what she's trying to accomplish. And so I came I threw out the idea of Why don't you start with that? Like in the moment, like literally be in the hut with the woman and give me that, because that's very interesting.
And then transition out of that with having like a piece of ice hit me and me started out and yeah, I'm actually on the mountain. Everything you heard her telling me to do because everything between the hut and getting to the temple doesn't do anything for the story. Plus, it's a short story. It's a novella. So not a lot of time to fill in every single gap.
And since she already had the story starting off with a flinch of, you know, being hit with something and that's what gets you into it.
Which does.
Work. It just didn't work because it wasn't a good enough hook. You know? I was like, You know that? And then one of the other people go, but wait.
Marie would kill you for that. That's starting in a flashback. I'm like, yes, sort of, sort of. But I'm not going to let you know.
That it's a flashback.
I'm just going to have you in that moment and then going to skip time and wake you up with her being where the crone. So, so straight from.
The horse's mouth.
What says you.
To that little.
Set up?
How would that be egregious to you? You know, would it be agreed to she would you be like, I'm out, this is a flashback.
So, look, I am an absolute martinet when it comes to flashback. So I would probably be marking that as like fix this.
But if it's if it's just but but it's it feels more like I just.
Jump forward in time.
If you jump forward in time, that's fine. But if I figure out that it's a flashback later, I'm going to be calling this borrowing tension from the future and be annoyed. You see what I'm saying?
Well, so the pushback would be.
I'm not borrowing it, I'm just giving you the event that led me here. Nothing that happened in the future.
But then how is that a flashback? So do.
Well, that's what I mean. That's what I mean.
That's what I'm trying to find out.
They docked.
Me saying that this was a flashback.
Because I'm like, well, kind of because.
It doesn't talk or the time that. Exactly right. So I do the whole thing dadadadada. You know, I have the encounter with a crone. I walk out of the crones hut, I stare down the mountain. I'm like, It's going to be a long trip. I get hit in the face and I and then I'm wherever I need to be.
Okay, let's. Let's. That's not actually what I'm doing.
So let's, let's let's expand this a little bit. So I'm in the crones hut. It happens now. I talk to the crown. She cackles. She she does her prophecy. She tells me that I have to go seek the gods temple on the mountain, that I have to make a special cup, that I have to do this stuff to save my brother.
And then something weird.
Happens in the Hutt, too. That would be my translation. That's why I said I said something weird happens and then all of a sudden.
I get hit in the face.
And I look around and I'm actually on the mountaintop at the temple. The cup is already made, you know, And I've it's obvious that I've been here for a couple of days because my knees are cramped, because I've been laying prone for three days and I'm starving and and all this other stuff.

Do I have no memory of what happened?

What do you mean?

I mean, do I? The person, the narrator do Have I lost my memory?


Basically I would spin it. The idea that I had, I was spinning it as.

She passed out.

While prostrating on the mountain. And she basically had a dream or a memory of what happened to her, that letter here. But the reader.

Doesn't feel that I.

Do a flashback in a dream sequence.

But I don't start with it's not like I start you.

On the mountain and then go back to the crone and then come back to the mountain when the story opens up. You're just there. You're just in that. Just like this story that we read at the last critique where he is, you know, the main character was just in the tattoo parlor with the crazy Magic crone. That's the way I would start it.

Yes. But you are literally starting a in a dream sequence and a flashback. And yes, I would absolutely put that book down 100%. I would not read that.

But that's sad because I really like that idea. I would I would absolutely do that because and here's my yeah, my justification. You never feel like you're in a dream. You never feel like you're in a flashback. I just then skip forward in time to skip the mundane stuff of going from the crone to the mountaintop. And then I just transition by the fact that you're just there and you've been there for a while and something hit you in the face.

And that.

Then skip.

Then Then actually, skip the time, like, show me the crone moment. Right. Skip the time, like don’t.

I'm not like, I'm not attracted to the idea of actually

Finishing that chapter because what you're what you're saying is, do the crone finish the scene. Actually exit and then scene break and then. So what I'm trying to do is this would be a way to do it without a scene break. Scene break would be fine. That's definitely.

So. I'll tell you what you could do. What what I wouldn't find.

egregious because.

That's what it's all about. We're not talking about what is the right way to do it. We're talking about what is the right way to do it, to not piss Marie off, Yeah.

Yeah. So what I wouldn't find egregious is if you did that green flashbacks, I'd still be a bit peeved. But. Okay, let's say you did that dream flashback sequence, okay? And you woke up on the mountain and everything is done, and you have no idea how you got here. What does it have no idea how the cup got made?

What does that do for me?

Because at that point I'm like, okay, so this is what started me on the quest. And now apparently the quest is done and I have no memory like, that's interesting.

Except for that.

Has nothing do with the story, because the story is the gods reject the offering and try to kill the main character. So if you and I do know where the story is, I obviously she read it, so I know where it's going. So the problem with not having any memory is it doesn't do anything for the story.

100%. I'm just that's why I'm like, that's what I'm saying. It doesn't I mean, if you want to do that, I, I would rather like if the if the part of the story that's interesting and is the crux of it is the gods rejecting the offer. Right. Start their then have the dude walk down the mountain and go I'm a I'm going to have to go back to that crone again.

She must have lied to me.

So that's what the author did.

And the problem is, is that everything that happens on the there's.

Nothing that.

Happens on the mountaintop. That was oh my God, like you slogged you had to read through those three pages. And then when you.

Found out.

That it was some weird crone that made a prophecy from a smoky, you know, seance room, that's when you were like, that's interesting.

Okay, so start with the crone. But start with the crone without thinking on the mountaintop. Thought was like, you know, I stood in front of the old crone hut with my rejected offering in hand and ready to bash down her door immediately. I know it's a rejected offer it.


Except for again, I know what the story is and never the main character never gets back to the old crone. Because not only did the gods reject the offer, but hit that character with a lightning bolt as she was running away and tattooed a map to her back. And that sent her on this other quest.

So you can do all of that stuff without ever needing the flash back to the crone.

No. Right.

Right. You're you're you're.

I'm not looking for a solution to not do this.

Yeah, that's.

Not what we're talking about here. We're talking about and we're only and we're really on because literally, I still love that way. I would absolutely do that. Even with you saying it would make me mad. I don't think it would. I think if you read it, you wouldn't even notice it. You would go from the now of being in the crow, you know, the crones hut to the now of being on the mountains.

And you would.

You would know that I just kept.

Everything in between because you didn't need to read it.

So I'll tell you why it would. And so it depends on how you do it. If you do it like a continuous sequence and we go from the crones hut to like the journey took days, that's fine to cover that.

And that's heavy handed and I'm trying to avoid that or I would be trying to avoid that.

Yeah, you can do things with that. But, but I, I just personally, if you just go from the crone to me waking up with my offering in and on the mountaintop, I'm going to be like, okay. But now not only have you dreamed me, not only had you flashbacked me, but you have set me up with a false premise.

Only we're talking about I No.

No, no, no. Literally set me up and said, I must go do this thing. You've set up the quest for me to make these items, blah, blah, blah. And now you've skipped it all.

Like I'll never write it. So we'll never be able to prove one way or the other. But I'm going to stick to the thing that I would write in a way that you wouldn't even notice it. You would know that I skipped the boring part of the story and you'd be fine with it.

But I don't think so. I've seen dreams and flashback combos and they.


Never feel like a dream. The only reason why you think it's a dream is because I'm telling you that it is. You would never see that from the writing and you would never think that it was a flashback because you would think that we just jump forward in time because the way it was in the story, it was a flashback.

Because once we got past the offering being rejected by the gods, we flashback to her being pissed about the old crone prophecy being wrong. And that was a flashback.


So like I said, I, you know, I you're, I think you've this is just my guess on this. And again, we'll never prove it one way or the other. But because I presented it as a dream and a flashback, that's what you're locked into. I would be willing to bet I could write it in a way that you would never even notice it.

I don't know.

Maybe we should. We should.

And I, we can absolutely leave it. But I will point out that there'll be people who say, I can absolutely do borrowing from the tension in a way that will work. I mean, it still won’t because borrowing from the tension is a is an egregious sin. And I feel the same way about dreams and flashbacks. So if you combo them and I pick up on it.

It wouldn't it wouldn't feel.

That way in the story. It would feel like you just skip forward in time.

Because when you described it to me, my first words were, It's a dream in a flashback.

It's because I said that. I said they would be waking up. And so.


Maybe I'll write it one day and we'll test it out.

But, but.

I yeah, I wouldn't, I wouldn't do it that way. Yeah.

No, and that's fine. I still would. I still like that. And, and you guys can chime in down below. Yeah. Which if you like the idea which if you hate the idea but if you're going to chime in, give a reason. Don't just say I like it. I hate it. Say I like it because this would do this or I hate it because this would do this.

Make you think.

Absolutely, Let us know in the comments what what you think. Okay. So. So those are all dreams, flashbacks, borrowing, tension from the future. Those are all kind of fiddling with time and putting your.

Knowing where to start the story.

Yeah, knowing where to start the story is an important element. The other egregious sin for me is point of view switching in the first chapter. Once you've introduced just a couple of point of view characters, I don't mind you switching in a chapter with scene breaks, obviously, but in the first chapter I want to settle into the character and.

Into a character

Into one character. I want to experience one character's viewpoint. I want to understand them. I want to settle in them. If you make me switch POVs in the first chapter, I don't I can't imagine how you would make it work. Maybe if you killed the one POV and the switch is like a gimmick. Yeah. Even getting I would recommend not doing that.

So here's where we see that a lot. We see that a lot when the author starts.

The story.

And in.

The scene.

Are multiple P.O.V. characters. Now. Yes, they're going to say I'm only in Jon's head, but Sally's also a P.O.V. character eventually in the story, and so is Tim, and so is Jill. And so you're like.

Well, they're all here.

So let me do Jon for a couple of pages. Then I'll scene break and I'll get into Joe's head for a couple of pages, and then that spreading. Think you haven't earned the readers loyalty too to spread out between that many characters, which is why and I write multiple P.O.V. almost exclusively but I’ve been racking my brains. If I ever written a P.O.V. story, a multiple story where there were two P.O.V. characters in the in the opening scene and I I'm pretty sure I have never done that.

I'm pretty sure it's, Nope, you get this one character. That's your only POV. We're going to we're going to.

Meet the other character later.

And they're somewhere else. And then I'll bring them together because that way it gives you individual time to get used to every individual character on an individual basis, fall in love with them, connect with them, and then we'll give you another one and you can fall in love and connect with them. And then eventually I'll bring them together so that you have them all together.

And generally speaking, I would say every point of view, characters, introductory chapter should focus only on them. Yep. This shouldn't just be the first chapter of your book. It should be in general, a point of view characters, introductory chapters should focus on them, not spread the love You want the reader to invest in this character. You want the reader to want to follow this character.

Thick with a character.

And that's where I think the.

Industry is so wrong in how they're insistent on.

You must start a fight scene. You must start in an action scene like No, you must start in a.

Scene that makes the reader care about the.

Character. That could be a fight scene.

100%, but it also could be a breakfast scene or, you know, a bath scene or a picnic scene. Like it just depends on what you're doing. The conflict has to be there. The hook has to be there, the whole nine yards. There has to be something that makes you go, I really like this character. But it doesn't have to be in a in a, you know, exploding combat scene.

I think that this is important to note. Your opening paragraph, your opening page needs to have something interesting about the character or the story or the world that's going to pull the reader in that we critiqued a piece last episode where there was the Jigans right up front and the dude hates Magic and he's being summoned by mages about magecraft.

That was interesting. There was no conflict, there was no action in the scene, but it was interesting and there was internal conflict inside the character that pulled the reader along.

And I, I talked about, you know what I mean by an opening conflict. It's not necessarily a conflict. It's dropping an open ended question that the reader will be compelled to find an answer for. And so with that one, it was like, there's these weird Jigan monsters that you have to get a protection tattoo or they will actually eat you.

That's what's what is this world like? What's going on here? And so, yeah, it's a, it's, there's no fight. But there is an interest though. There's that open ended question that makes me make me want to and you want to continue reading it.

Like, I mean your, your, the one that we just argued over the central conflict is the gods rejecting the offering. Right? That's the the thing. But the opening hook could potentially be this crones prophecy or it could be the gods rejecting or, you know, something somewhere that is the it's not a fight scene. It's an action scene, but it is a moment that causes the character to conflict inside themselves or externally, whatever, and it pulls the reader through in content.

And unfortunately, that's the esoteric part and that's what we're saying. What you want is.

Something that pulls.

The reader to want to read as opposed to them having to force their way through the.

Read. And and it really is that simple. It is something.

That makes you go, okay, now I got I got to read the next paragraph or.

Because I just have to.

Because now you're being compelled, you're being pulled, something is drawing you through it as opposed to, you know, Drake woke up and brush his teeth and then he went downstairs and had some breakfast. Today, breakfast was a bagel with grape jelly.

And he opened his iPad to.

Read the news. And scrolling through the news, he was unimpressed by anything happening in the world. So then he fed is dog, like.

I'm now having to continue reading that.

And that is what that is what the industry I guess, pushes back on and why they act like you have to sort that in with action, whatever is. Because when when you tell a writer, start by introducing the character, they do the introduction of the character without conflict.

So that what you just said is a brilliant thing to chase for a second.


I love and you've said it too. I love to pick on the industry. How stupid they are because they'll say stuff like that. They're actually not.

Stupid, they're lazy. That's what they are. So like when they say only you.

Said in your speech tags, nothing else just said, don't use anything.

Else. They're that stupid.

I would I would just go, Well, you're stupid. There's a million other ways to do that are better than that. But they're not stupid. They're just being lazy. Because if they don't say that.

Then you're going to write.

He whispered quietly, and he shouted loudly and he said anxiously. And.

And you're going to throw all these.

Crappy tele Elway adverbs in your speech, Dag. But instead of, you know, taking the time to explain, look, this is how you use these tags, this is what you don't want to do. This is what you do want to do. They just say, just do it this stupid way. And so it's the same thing with what you just said.

They don't want to say, Look.

Don't give me.

Mundane crap that makes me have to slog through it to get to know his character. Give me something that is an open ended question that makes me want to find out about.

It's just easier to go, you know what started it started an explosion. You start this motion, that's what you do, because then you've kind of got the.

Conflict automatically right there and they know it. So it's not that they're stupid, they're lazy.

They are. But but it's it's a laziness. Born from volume.

Yes, 100%.

Because they get so much crap submitted to them. Agents get so much crap submitted to them that they're just like, generically, I'm just going to reject anything in this like this because they don't want to slog through three pages of whispered quietly, shouted loudly, declaimed, and every other synonym for Sade that you can find in a thesaurus, which I have read.

And I understand those agents pain. Yeah, I get yeah. So I do think this is a kind of a blanket rule. They get less crap.

Because you got to understand you’re just sifting through something to find something to read. Yeah. They're sifting.

Through that same.

Crap, trying to find something to make money off of. Yeah, it's their job.

It's not their entertainment. So they are.


More sensitive to the garbage that's out there. I mean, us, we're just like, you know, read a reader, compare us, and I won't buy that one. You're not going to buy that one a couple. look, this one.

This one didn't make me.

Puke in the first place.

Buy it.

Unfortunately, I usually will then puke on the third page. But.

You know.

It's just kind of the way it is.

But it's the. So yeah, the industry rules, but I am not a big proponent of blanket follow the industry rules. Right. But I'm also not a proponent of throwing the industry rules out of the window because there is actually a reason why publishers say these things. And once you understand the reason, you could apply the rule, correctly.

Yep. All of my teaching stems from the fact that when I first started this journey, because I'm a big why guy, I would hear the industry say.

Don't do this.

And I don't.

But I could see reasons to do that. So why are you so you're saying don't.

Do that because of this other.


Because this other thing is so egregious.

But I could avoid that and still do the thing.

Like our argument earlier. I can start us in a.

Flashback dream.

And I think I can still pull it off because I know why. The flashback dream. The flashback doesn't work, and I know why the dream doesn't work. So I can mitigate those problems because I know what their negatives are.

And again, I'm not having you don't need to agree with me and that's fine. I'm just saying that's that's the mentality you need to have the mentality you need to have is, okay, I understand why they say don't do this stuff, but I feel like I can avoid those things.

So so for our viewers, just to explain why I hate the flashback so much, it is because if you have properly hooked me back, you've got me interested in the story and you now go back. You have drained the tension out of the hook. That's the problem. Yes. I speak about being an alternate, about flashbacks. And that's because, man, everybody uses flashbacks way too much, way too often to give me information.

I really don't need. And as such, I have become like the publishing industry. I'm like, I hate you. Don't use it.

But and understand why not. Don't just understand why the.

Publishing industry says stuff, understand why you're doing it. And every single time that you do a flashback.

Is because you.

Think that the reader needs that information.

They don't actually need it. They just need the moment.

They need to fall into the moment and fall in love with the character. At this moment.

When you earn.

That love.

Then they're going be like, I wonder what they were like before this? How did they get to here? Because this is now really.

Interesting and I'm really hooked on this. So that's the problem is.

I've never seen it.

Not be not saying it can't happen. I've just never seen it not be when they flashback in the first chapter, every single time it's you want it to give me that information.

You, the author, love that piece of your character's history so much that you forced.

It upon me.

I didn't need it. I don't care.

And that's the problem, right? And that's the problem with flashbacks in the first chapter is you are taking me away from the moment of tension. I am not yet in love with your character. I have barely made your character. You could kill your character in this chapter and I would not care because I am not in love with.

Him or you kill her wife and kids. I don't care about them.

You can kill. They what? Like I would go, that's sad and move on with my life. I have no emotional connection to this character.


And but you've given me a little bit of a hook. You've pulled me into your story. I've started reading your story, and then you give me nothing. You flash back to some stupid part of your character's life that you care about. And I don't.

Get every time.

And again, maybe there's some examples out there that it doesn't fit into that I just haven't seen. I don't think you have either.

Yeah, and 90% of the time people do this with flashbacks, especially in the first chapter. Don't flashback. In the first chapter, you might think you can pull it off and maybe you can, you know, maybe you can to be fair. But the chances of you pulling it off are really small because it's the first chapter and you have no loyalty in the reader that literally just have the tiniest of hooks right now.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

I'm I mean, the last thing because we kind of jumped around a little bit on our list, really the last thing and it ties into it because we talked about too much backstory. That's what you're doing. You're just getting more like, I need to connect with the character now.


The other big egregious thing, which is most fantasy books from the seventies and eighties, is the first three chapters being an encyclopedic history of your world.

And the Days of old king Therodin came down

Down with the.

Scrolls of aldorock. And on those scrolls were written like, I don't care.

I'm not here for a history lesson.

Now the problem is, is that all that is important to the story we need to know about?

King theodin and the scrolls of aldorock and and what's written on them. But not.


I don't.


And so so many fantasy people.

Even to this day.

Still fall into that they fall into that trap.

And the biggest excuse that.

I hear from people and I do not understand this excuse at all is they're like.

Because I'll read something of theirs. I say, This is never going to sell.

And they're like, Of course it will. It's written exactly like Lord of the Rings and im like lord of the

Rings is successful because it was the.

First. So if you want to sell this, you need to travel back to 1953.

The year before Lord of the Rings was published. And then you'll be successful with.

This because no one.

Would ever buy Lord of the Rings today. No one, not a single person. And like one of the funniest tests that the industry ever did, and this was about 20 years ago now, they actually took the.

Ten most long lived.

Stories of all times, and they just changed the window dressing on them. They left the writing exactly the same, and I remember what stories they were, but like Gone With the Wind or Lord of the Rings or whatever, and they submitted them to like 30 big publishers back before we just had the big five or whatever we're down to now.

We actually had a bunch of publishers.

and everyone.

Were 100% rejected by every.

Publisher across the board. So we can't. You can't?

Yeah, I don't care that Lord of the Rings was written that way. And I don't care that Lord rings is so successful.

No, I mean.

And I've said this before in here when I'm when I'm out doing a convention and teach in front of bunch of people and this comes up, I will always ask, and these are geeks, these are fantasy geeks. I'll be like, by show of hands, how many people in the room have started reading Lord of the Rings, but never finished half half

The hands go up. So 50% of everyone who's ever bought Lord of the Rings has never finished it.

I don't want to write that book.

So let me let me just talk about change briefly. The dictionaries have updated this year to include literally as meaning not literally but figuratively, literally, as well as literally because because the language, the English language now, I mean, we all use literally that way now. It makes no sense to not have it in the dictionary that way the language has shifted, which a language must do unless it's going to die.

Like Latin. Yeah. So it is important that things change. But this also applies to writing styles like free indirect discourse, which we talk about a lot right? It's a very common, very strong third person, limited POV, but it was invented by Jane Austen in the 1860s whenever she wrote Pride and Prejudice. I don't know, off the top of my head.

I can't remember exactly when she wrote, but it was like not the 19. It was the 18s. Yeah. And she invented it as a as a style.

I'm not going to say invented.

I would rather say popularized. She was the first one really kind of.

To take it.

You know, she was the first one to write in that specific three and indirect style. Right. Right. And it is actually because she was not as educated as her male counterparts and they were all right. Writing an omniscient role. And she was she wrote in this more accessible style. Right. But Jane Austen's free and indirect discourse is not what we write today as free and indirect discourse, because she was still very omniscient, because the trend at the time was to write all stories in an omniscient fashion.

Now, yes, you can say stories are immortal. And dadadada you can go through all of that spiel. But let me tell you something. You are writing for todays audience And today's audience are not that keen on Omniscient because if they were, Lord of the Rings would still be popular and everybody would be finishing.

So it's still.

Popular and they're still selling different copies of them, but they're still selling people. They just don't read them. So it's like, that's a really cool, leather bound version of this. I want it for my collection.


Because I have a friend who does that.

He's actually never finished.

Lord of the Rings.

I think he's got six different printing.

Versions of Lord of the Rings and they're all.

Like, like leather bound, hundred dollar volumes.

He's like, Yeah, but they just look so good sitting on the shelf. It makes me feel good that everyone thinks that, you know, I'm that level of fantasy geek that I've got six versions of this, you know, amazing fantasy story that I can't read because it's terrible.

I'll give you a different example. Bram Stoker's Dracula. Like have you finished it? Have you read it? I've read it, but I also read War and Peace because.

So I have never I don't even.

Think I own a copy of it.


So it's not a book that sells well because it's not as famous as much of a collector's item as Tolkien Yeah, right. And of course, it is in the public domain now, so anybody can publish, right?

I mean, I've watched I.

Watched the Keanu Reeves version of the movie that was really good.

So so I actually really enjoyed Bram Stoker's Dracula as a book. But it is written in a very 18th century style. Now, I've also read all of Jane Austen's, but I grew up in a literary household, so, you know, yeah.

I did not.

My mother read me.

And I did not.

Mother read me Shakespeare in the Cradle, you know, and it's so but yeah, so my point is around all of this is right for your current day audience, not for an audience that existed 50 years ago. Yeah, and that means don't info dump Now, you obviously you do need to give people the information that they need in the first chapter.

So let's say you're like the Grumpcan has been stolen and then you can end the narration and just say the Grumpcan guaranteed the unity of the kingdoms. And without it, we have five days before the kingdoms fall apart. You know, something to give the magnitude of the problem, but you don't have to go into the history of the grumpcan

why It guarantees the unity of the kingdoms. What happened? None of that’s important. All that we need to do is we need to understand enough of the world to grasp the stakes of.

We talked about this in the last podcast when we were editing a submission. And by the way, if you would like to put your piece up on the altar of sacrifice, releasing your inner dragon at, if you want to send us 500 to 1000 words, we're rarely going to read more than 500 words because in 500 words we can have an entire hour of stuff to talk about.

But, you know, if you want to send us something, we do episodes every now and again where we edit stuff.

Go ahead.

Also, we are pushing to do an episode where we read first pages and we pretend to be publishers. So we're like, okay, we would here, we would reject this piece because of and then we'll give the reasons for it. So if you want to just send us your first page as a submission to the first page submission competition, same email address and send it to us and we will do a live read of those when we have to watch them.

All the links are below. Yeah, so we talked about it there where it's if the vast majority, the reason why it's so important to show versus tell and to be immersive and include all now I've expanded to seven senses so I've got the five physical senses sight, taste, touch, sound and smell, and then I've kind of broken the two.

Yeah, I've got internal, emotional and then internal physical. So like, you know, shuddering or pain or whatever. But then we've got the emotional side of, you know, hate and love and, and all of that stuff. If you're doing that, if you've included at least four of those seven things on every page and you've got all you know, most of your stuff is showy.

When you throw in that one line of, you know, where the character's like, you know, his.

His heart dropped.

To his.


Thinking of the catastrophe that would happen now that the grumpcan had been stolen, the grumpcan was the only thing.

That kept the kingdoms together. Like that little piece.

Of information is definitely info dump.

But it's one line in a, you know, page of personal, emotional, gripping, showy writing. And no one I mean, we say this all the time. Creative writing is.

Not about following every single rule because, I mean, creative is the first word of creative writing. It's about doing it in ways that nobody notices. So when you drop in that one line of info dump worldbuilding narrative that isn't really in the character's voice and isn't really personal to the character, it's just something the reader has to know to understand the concept.

But it's one line. No one hits.

That line and goes, This guy is such a crappy telly writer. Look at all this info dumping in these seven words that are on this 400 word.

Page like no one, no one.

No one going to.

Do that. And they have to.

Have that information and some information. I mean.

We are still in pros. There are just some things that you can't beautifully, magically do.

Organically across the board.

And I suppose.

I should say.

I'm not smart enough to do it.

Maybe someone out there is smart enough to do it.

But but again, it doesn't matter.

Then I'm not smart enough. Do it. No one will flinch over that. One thing.

I also do want to say like not everything can or even should be shown, because if you show literally everything, if you go and you show the grumpcan and all of that and you like what you're going to end up with, it's a bloated glitter full story that is just going to read. It's going to read worse than Lord of the Rings.

It's going to read everywhere without any focus and story.


Absolutely. There is a place for telling, but keep it short and keep it relevant. Don't give me the whole history of the grumpcan Just give me what I need to understand. The stakes, especially in your first chapter.

Because like with this, this magical grumpcan

If we just say, you know, his soul broke.

Realizing the grumpcan had been stolen, and then move on.

We're like, But why?

What is it, pumpkin? What? What?

So adding those six or.

Seven words of pumpkin was the only thing that kept peace within.

The kingdoms. We don't even.

Need to go further now. We need to go.

Without it, blood would be spilled and you know, mass death. But I mean, if you just say it's the only thing keeping the peace, I can infer that it means death and.

Bad stuff in all of.

That. What we don't.

Need. Then the grumpcan was created by.

Three Kings 5000 years ago.

In the lands of, you know, visnew by the shamans of, you know.

None of that. Maybe.

Maybe all of that is very important.

Maybe we can't.

Solve the solution without knowing all of that history.

But we're not even to the solution yet. We're not even.

Talking about the solution yet. We are here in this moment. And so we need to live in this moment. We need to have what we need right now. And that's why I like in the writers room, one of the number one things that I do when I'm editing is I'll say like, this information isn't needed right now. This is information isn't needed right now.

This isn't information isn't needed right now. So like on this case, maybe they right. The company was the only thing keeping peace within the nine kingdoms. Great. But the next line is, without it, blood would be spilled and millions would die. I would circle that like, I don't need that right now. Like, you've already given me what I need.

Let's stay in the moment. Let's keep falling in love with this character. All this other stuff can be given to me later. And again it comes down to what I said earlier.

You think it's important and you.

Want to give it to the reader.

Because you know the whole story.

But you have to look at it from What does my reader know right now? They don't know any of this stuff and they don't really care yet. And so I need to earn their concern.

I'll tell you something else. They won't remember it either, because it's the first chapter. It doesn't at this point. The grumpcan is a name. The character is a name, and that's it. Like you lash me with more names and fantasy terms and fantasy history. And I'm like, Okay, but what if this is important? Like, get me do the story, You know what I mean?

Later, when I'm invested in the world, Im invested in the character I'm living for the character. I'm rooting for them to succeed. Then I'm going to remember the grumpcans history. It's going to matter to me. Yeah, but right now it's my first introduction, and I don't know if I'm going to invest enough care to remember your history.

And if you spread me too thin, I definitely won't. Exactly my. And that's the reason why when everybody says, Hey.

Would you read my prolog.

And tell me if you think it works or not, I go, I only need one word. Does it say Prolog at the top? It doesn't work. And it's, you know, you look at like Wheel of time, the Prolog to Wheel of Time is, you know, the dragon reborn. And you know, it's it's a wonderful scene. You've got this character that has no memory.

He's walking over the corpse of his dead.


That he murdered and has no memory of. And he's calling for her to come out and make drinks for their guest who's actually his enemy.

Like, it's a.


Interesting scene.

But it was the third book of that series.

Where I'm reading along and I'm going sometimes tickling. I feel like something was there something? And then finally, about halfway through book three, I go, wait a minute, the prolog of book one. And I go back and I read it and I'm like, this actually matters now. This actually now makes sense. But without the first two and a half books of information, the Prolog meant nothing to me.

And so since it never had anything.

To do with the story.

I had forgotten about it.

And we're done with the first time. Obviously I've read it several times and you know, now I know the story.


Probably in too much detail.

But that first time reading it, it was just tickling the back of my brain in Book three.

So knowing on the principle of you can make things work like my Prolog is an immediate relevance to the story and you find the relevance in chapter one. The reason why I have a Prolog because I kill as I kill the character because it's a villain action.

Right? Yeah.

Yeah. That's. I feel the same way about Prolog as you feel about flashbacks. You just do the deed, the blanket statement.

You can never do it right. Do it at all.

We both have our foibles.

We I mean, my award.

Winning children's.

Movie script, which you can get on Amazon now.

Snurse a magical

magical fairy tale starts in a dream and it starts in a dream like it doesn't even I don't hide it. I don't, you know, even try it. And it.


Beautifully because movies are a completely different medium. And so, you know, again, it's won awards.

All over the world, and I just sold it the third time.

So we'll see if that actually crosses the finish line this time. I'd love to see that movie actually get made. It's one of my favorite stories. But anyway, so yeah, you can break these rules. You can bend these rules, but there everybody has their pet peeves that were like, Don't ever do it at all. I don't care how breathless you think you can do it, you can't.

And then, of course, maybe you can. Maybe we're wrong. We're humans. But yeah, that's me with Prologs. I'm just a now, now Prologs don't work if it says the word prolog at the top of your opening chapter, you have already failed. I guess I should have added that to the list if I opened the book and the first chapter says Prolog at the top, I immediately close it, put it back on the shelf, like I'm done, I'm out.

And you want to know probably.

The one thing that burned me the most Eragon


And there's nothing wrong with the Prolog.

The Prolog actually does kind of give the history of the Dragon Egg and the elves that hit it and everything like that. What really burns me about that is so I didn't buy Eragon until probably the third book had came out.

Because the entire time I'm like, No way.

A 16 year old wrote a fantasy book, then I'm going to enjoy it. Not going to happen. He's 16. It's going to.

Be it's going to.

Be trite. It's going to have a lot of tropes in it that are just overused. It's going to basically just be a d&d campaign. It's not going to be hugely imaginative or anything like that. So when the third book came out and they've already made a movie out about it and everybody, you know, still kind of raving about it, I'm going to Barnes and Noble and.

I'm like, you know what? I'm going to just it's free. I'm going to just open.

It because this is before Amazon and the look inside and all of that. And so I'm like, I open it up and I read the first couple of pages of the Prolog and I'm like.

Blown away.

It's some of the best writing I had ever read in my entire life. And I'm like, I cannot believe a 16 year.

Old is this is amazing. This is off the charts. Amazing. So I bought it immediately. I actually bought all three, but all three books.

Like, I'm done, I only need these couple pages. Everything is going to be great. And then I go home and I finish the Prolog and it was awesome. And then I started reading chapter one and a paragraph in a chapter one, I went, whoever wrote the Prolog did not write this book. And it turns out that was the case.

It was a bunch of editors who got together and collectively wrote the Prolog to be the massive hook And then.


Paolini, you know. Christopher Paolini only have you say his name. I think he's actually become a really good writer. And actually for 16 he was a way better writer at 16 than I ever was at 16.

So it's it's not terrible.

And he does grow into it. But Eragon is exactly what I thought it was going to be. It was very cliche, very trite, pretty much just a d&d campaign. It wasn’t

a d&d campaign it was star Wars was Dragons.

Okay, I'll give you that, too.

It was still, exactly what you’d think a 16 year old would have written.

I’ve seen D&D camaigns that weren't that derivative. It was Star Wars with dragons.

But I mean, it's exactly.

What you would expect from a 16.

Year old. Yeah, this is an.

Older persons game. You're not you don't have you haven't lived in much as much life as you need to to really write a dynamic story that is engaging and intriguing and and all encompassing. So that Prolog still haunts me to this very day. I still have nightmares about how it tricked me into and again, I've read the whole series.

The whole series. All four books are great. You know, I love the I actually do. I am a fan of Eragon. I'm not a fan of the first book, but he definitely grows into, you know, as he continues on, he gets better and better and better. And so I'm not I'm definitely not pooh poohing on Christopher nor his writing abilities.

I did not finish that series. I read the first book because a friend of mine was like, you have to read this. It's brilliant. It's written by 16 year old. He's amazing. And the problem is, if you overhype something like that, it's like, I'll give you a different example. A friend of mine who no longer gets to recommend anything to me ever in a million years told me, Watch the Twilight movie, You'll enjoy it.

It's vampires. It's fantastic. I switched the movie on. I reached the sparkling vampires and my limbs froze in horror. I couldn't even reach for the remote to switch off the clearly not aimed at me story that was forcing its way into my eyeballs. And not only have I never watched any of the other Twilights or read any of the Twilight books, I now no longer listen to that friend's recommendation at all.

She's off the ever recommend list, off ever.

Never. So two things.

One, an opposite of what you said, but two, I actually think you made a mistake with that. So when Siskel and Ebert were alive and reviewing movies, I watched them religiously because this is before the Internet, before all this stuff, because 100% they would tell me whether I was going to like the movie or not. If both of them thumbed up the movie.

I would hate it if one of.

Them thumbed up it and it was I can't read which one, but it was a specific one. I would hate.


If the other one thumbed it up. Maybe I might like it if the one thumbed it down and then if they both thumbed it down, it was a movie for me every time.

So you might still.

Want to get recommendations for this person. And just like, how did you feel about this? And they're like, it was terrible. I hate it. You might actually really think that.

So I think you made a mistake. I think you lost. You just need to flip.

It on its head. But the funny thing is to go opposite because.


Really do matter this much Eragon did that to me the movie. So when me and my wife did decide to go see the movie, we were like, This is going to be garbage. This is going to be the worst thing we've ever seen. But it was in like the bin for $4 or whatever. So we just bought it and we bought it literally just to puke on it and have fun.

And at the end of it, we were like, was actually pretty good. It was a bad now It was bad. It was. But because we had the worst.

Expectations of it, because.

We knew it was just going to be absolute.

Dog crap, it way over beat our expectations.

And so we, we kind of had a good time.

With it, both of us. Like, it was funny, we both were like.

That wasn't as that was actually pretty good.

It wasn't. But again.

Our expectations were so low that it just beat.

That. And so we felt that we got a good deal out of the out of the environment.

Tensions absolutely do matter because, yeah, I went into Eragon with like this, you know, expecting fucking George R.R. Martin levels the way my friend was rating Game of Thrones got this thing, and Game of Thrones it's not.

We had already read the series because, well, me and my wife are both readers. Yeah, we already knew. And we were like, And also, God bless him, I love Jeremy Irons to death, but the man can not pick a script like.

He's a he's an okay actor, but he's a terrible, terrible script picker and.

Was picked the number of good movies his in between on my one hand and in those movies he was brilliant like I for example, I loved Men in the Iron Mask. It was fantastic. But also a book you shouldn't read. It's a terrible book. Duvall cannot end the story. You know, you said I game and called in the story Do.

Maul has no clue where to end the story, how to end a story or what the narrative arc is. None. But regardless, yeah, the movie was great and Irons was fantastic in Yeah.

He's actually a good.

Actor. It's just that.

He picks the absolute worst role.

He does.

You know? And then you go the.

Opposite with Gary Oldman, who is obviously an amazing actor, but he's a character actor but brilliant at picking the right roles like everything that he's and you're just like.

That was awesome.

Yeah, I love Jeremy Irons.

He just cannot make a movie. He just gets it or.

Whatever, if it's his agent or whatever. So yeah, he.

Makes the movies that appeal to some sort of inner nerd. So I think.

That's exactly what we did. We went we went, okay, Eragon is going to be a bad movie.

Who's in it? Jeremy Irons. yeah, it's going to be horrible. But yeah, not because of his acting ability. His acting is fine, but it's just his choices. Yeah. So. All right, we've got gotten off topic, but we're pretty much have some.

Things to avoid. Unless you are super, super confident that you understand the pitfalls and can do it.

Actually, let me let me let me caveat that because you're right. You need to know the.

Pitfalls and know to avoid them. But it's not you being confident that has nothing to do with it. You must get ten people who don't care about you and at least eight of them must tell you you actually succeeded. Not you. You can't think you succeeded. Other people have to think you succeeded. That's when you know that you've subverted the issue.

And they all your dream sequence, your flashback. You're borrowing tension from the future, which is all of the things where you Gigi with time do not Gigi with time. In your first chapter.

Drop the reader into the moment. Have them live the moment. Have them connect to the character in the moment. And then you've bought the loyalty to start Gigering and moving and adjusting.

Exactly, don’t P.O.V. switch in your first chapter. Don't info dump the history or lore of your world. Don't info dump the characters history. All of these things drain the tension out of the hook. Do give the reader some kind hook, some kind of conflict evoke an open ended question in the reader's mind that they will go, I want to know the answer to that, and I'll keep reading because of it, and then feed that little flame.

Do not drain the tension out of it by dumping them into somebody else's head or info dumping on them.

And for clarity.

When we say Don't P.O.V. shift in your first chapter. We're not talking about P.O.V. shifting. Actually, we're kind of using that term incorrectly if you P.O.V. shift. In other words, if you head hop, you're a bad writer like and I'm definitely put in your book now because that means you just don't know how to write pros. We're saying don't scene break and then go into another character's head, another P.O.V. character's head.

So even though you're doing it correctly.

It's too soon.

You need to finish a scene and allow the reader to really get to know one character before you force them to get to know a second character or a third character. So that's what we're saying. P.O.V. shifting is fine. It's just that I want to make sure that we were clear because.

If you if you head hop if, if every paragraph.

You're in a different character said you just can't write pros, there's there's no head hopping in any version of prose that works at all. Maybe if your entire novel the gimmick.

Is head hopping.

I would I cannot imagine that I could ever make it through.

That. But if if for somehow you figure.

Out a way to use that as a gimmick, that's going to really you know, I.


Breaking the fourth wall is is almost impossible to do. But there are some shows that we know that they break the fourth wall and it's a gimmick and it actually improves the show. It makes the show more interesting. House of Cards, Doogie Howser. You know, there's some things where we did that Scrubs. I really loved how he would turn and talk to the audience about different things.

Dogma the movie, was great at fourth wall

Breaks which one.

Dogma It was a lot of small say it is God. That was dogma, wasn't it?

Yeah, it's dogma.

I don't there's this moment with Matt Damon and he's acting buddy I can't remember those two Mike move together that turn Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck, That's him. They're like that. They're talking to each other and they're like, sometimes you're forced by your friends to be in a movie, blah, blah, blah. And then I would do that, and then I turn to look straight into the camera.


Okay, yes. But that's not what I'm I mean, I'm talking when you use it as a gimmick, that's just one it's a joke. We just did the one little thing as a joke. So, yes, that worked beautifully. But I'm talking about when you use it as a consistent gimmick through the entire thing.

And I don't.

Know why people get mad when we say the word gimmick when we're like, you're using breaking the fourth wall as a gimmick. We're not saying it as a negative thing. It's just means you're using it as a tool that is specific to your story that you're going to use over and over and over again. It's a gimmick.

It's what it.

Is. It's not. There's nothing wrong with it.

A gimmick is a trick. It's a trick that you're using specifically.

But it's not that you're using it wrong, not that it's bad to use it. It's just you're using it. You're using a gimmick. There's nothing. I use gimmicks all the time. Gimmicks are good.

So I don't know why people get bent out of shape when they're like.

It's not a gimmick.

You know?

Yes, it is. It's a gimmick that's what it is.

So, yeah, I just wanted to to kind of bring that in there that that we're talking about having too many POVs in the same scene. Even if you're doing it correctly, you haven't given them enough time with the first character to really connect with them on their own before you move into giving them another character that they have to fall in love with.

In other words, just like everything we're talking about here, you're giving too much information to the reader too fast. You're spreading them.


You spreading the reader too thin. And because of that, you are losing the tension you created in the hook.


100% feed the tension, not the info dump.


And I think that that is a good place to end this episode and we will see you soon for another.

Good day to our esteemed listeners. I'm Marie Mullany and it has been a pleasure guiding you through the nuances of writing and worldbuilding. If our podcast has enriched your autherial journey in any way, please consider liking and subscribing. Sharing our content with your peers is a powerful way to support our mission and ensure we continue to deliver insightful and valuable episodes.

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