Recently, a reader who is also a writer trying to get published wrote me lamenting the fact that her writing is similar to much of mine, in that it doesn’t begin with an immediate crisis, killing, or an action forcing everything into a literary hundred yard dash. Or, put another way, she doesn’t write slam-bang action openings, and it appears to her – and to me – that there’s more and more emphasis in F&SF for just such openings.
Now, I have nothing against openings with action. Fall of Angels begins with a violent battle scene, followed by a failing ship, and an emergency abandon-ship scene. Of Tangible Ghosts opens with a murder. An assassination by explosives sets the stage in Imager’s Intrigue. But frankly, most of my books open more prosaically with the killings, battles, explosions, treason, wars, etc., coming a bit later. And that’s usually the way real life is.
The problem with beginning with lots of action is that anything that comes after that seems like a let-down, especially to those readers who read only for the action. Those are the readers, of course, who usually won’t enjoy my books anyway because they’re “toooo slooow,” to quote one of them. But an action-packed opening can be a trap because it tends to imply that more and more action will follow, and if the action level doesn’t increase, that lets down “action-oriented” readers, and even if the level of action stays the same, then it’s just “more of the same,” and to avoid that an author needs to ratchet up the levels of violence, and often, sex and gore.
I’ve been reading F&SF for about sixty years, and it appears to me, especially in the last fifteen to twenty years, that the violence, speed, action, and shock-value quotients, so to speak, have all accelerated and become ever more prevalent. I’m certainly not against action, or even violence, and my characters, have, upon occasion, done some terrible deeds – and I’m talking about the protagonists, not about the villains – but I have the feeling that more and more authors are relying far too heavily on action and violence and shock value for the sake of shock value, rather than on plot, character, and, frankly, the technical strength of writing, in order to reach and hold readers.
Recently, say, over the past ten years, I’ve seen an increase in letters and emails to me that say that I’m one of a handful of authors that the writer can still enjoy reading because too many authors focus on action, sex, and violence. In the first twenty-five to thirty years of my professional career, I doubt that I got even a handful of such communications. Obviously, many of these writers are older and more traditional readers, but some clearly are not.
Given this reaction, limited as it may be, and my own continuing ability to sell books, I do have the suspicion that there’s still a market for a less violent approach to writing F&SF, but, as in many things, only time will tell, but I will say to any aspiring writer that the story should trump the marketing appeal of the slam-bang opening.