Monday, January 3, 2011

How Writing Is Like Dating

The beginning of a novel should start off with the inciting incident, the situation where the protagonist’s normal life is turned upside down. Authors do this to grab the reader’s attention and draw her into the story. Unfortunately, even if the writer has achieved this goal, many fail miserably after that initial scene. Why? What are they doing wrong? They reveal too much too soon which, just like in dating life, can turn people off.

Remember the guy you dated. Once. Why didn’t it go further than that? Well, maybe there wasn’t any chemistry or the guy was a freak, but it could also be that he revealed too much too soon. This can mean anything from intimate details about his past relationships, his overbearing mother, that he likes to wear women’s clothing, or that he just got out of prison. (The same applies to women who reveal to much on their first date.)

Hey, that situation has happened to all of us. Back when I was single, I’d gone on a date with a guy who warned me that dark angels followed him. In fact, a few of them were with us on our date. Yikes. I’m open minded and everything, but that was downright creepy. So was the guy, apparently. Somehow, he couldn’t or wouldn’t understand why I didn’t want him to contact me anymore. Go figure. I finally had to threaten to call the police if he didn’t leave me alone. That worked. I think. Who knows? Maybe he sent some of his dark angels after me, but at least he stopped bothering me.

What you want to do is tease the reader a little. Give her a hint here and there, so she starts to wonder about certain elements of your story, then torture her and make her read on to discover the answers to her questions. Think of this in dating terms. A guy is much more interested in a woman of mystery than one who tells him all he needs to know before he needs to know it. The same applies to women searching for men, by the way. We love the excitement of getting to know the guy. That’s lost if he’s an open book.

Why is it a big mistake to reveal too much too soon in your story and how do you know what’s too much? Don’t worry. We’ll go into more details about this topic in the next few weeks.

Have you read a book that revealed too much too soon? Were you disappointed when the author answered your questions before you had a chance to figure them out for yourself? Or did the writer tell or show you so much that you didn’t even have a chance to come up with questions?

For those of you who won query crits with me, hang in there. I’ll start the crits again this week.


  1. Your title cracked me up. In answer to your questions, Yes, yes, and yes! Grrr. However, I'm also guilty of telling too much too soon so this is an awesome reminder to keep readers guessing.

  2. I'm always afraid I spill too much up front. Great post!

  3. I LOVE the connection between writing and dating. How original. I don't write fiction very often but this is great information for when I do finally sit down and get it done.

  4. I get this, I really do...but every now and again, I read something in which I keep having to go back a few pages and see if I missed some information. So yeah--always leave us wanting more, but don't start us out so confused that we quit before we get a clue.

  5. true. And just like dating, we can't be afraid to toss a book out and start over if it isn't going anywhere.

  6. Teri Anne: That's a good point. It's important to plant the seeds that will LATER grow into a tree. Without the tree, you have no book.

    Stephanie: Yes, I totally agree. I've had to teach myself that my time is worth more now and I shouldn't feel guilty putting a book down if it's not working for me.

    Lynnette Labelle

  7. In person I tell too much too soon, but I don't think I do that in writing. But the analogy with dating is awesomely appropriate. Thanks for sharing!

  8. The worst book I read was when the hero and heroine professed their love at the mid point of the book and the last half was pointless story. I was so disappointed.