Lately, we’ve gotten a lot of submissions that could use to begin in the middle. The submissions are interesting, well written, and, ultimately, enjoyable. But before we can get to the interesting parts, they’re weighed down by heavy backstory, long descriptions of setting, or by the story just not starting in the right place. In those first few pages, the reader doesn’t need to know every detail about the character before the story starts: that’s what the book is for! Nor do we need to know about the character’s entire surroundings. Description is good, but it should entice and intrigue, not weigh down your beginning.
Now, in terms of the reading I’ve been doing this summer, why does this matter so much? In a partial manuscript, you have fifty pages to make us really want to read on and request more pages. Truthfully, you don’t even have fifty—while I always read all the way to the end, those initial pages determine my opinion of your writing style, your characters, and how tightly paced the novel is. If the beginning is slow, you have to win me back in the next thirty or so pages. You have to wow me enough that I forget the opening and want to keep reading. That’s a lot of pressure on those later pages.
One way to capture the reader more effectively with your manuscript is to begin in medias res—or in the middle. There is little that is more intriguing than watching a character who’s been thrown directly into a situation, trying to handle it while the reader slowly gets the details. This creates action, it introduces us to the character as we’ll see her throughout, and most importantly, it means we aren’t waiting to be interested.
Keeping the action moving while providing the reader with necessary information isn’t easy. It’s the mark of a good writer—which is why that approach, done correctly, will move your partial to the top of the pile.