Chapter One: Avoid Glacial Pacing with Excessive Back Story

Tackling the first chapter of the next book in a series is always a challenge. I recently received excellent feedback for book five of my Other Worldly series, Alien Sensation, of which I’m currently three chapters deep into drafting.

The trick is not slowing the pace of an opening scene with too much back story. Authors tend to want to throw everything in there to bring the reader up to date, or remind them of key elements from previous books.

What I’ve come to realize is some details may be overly precious to me, and not necessarily needed by the reader, who is likely more than willing to catch up on relevant story lines when the time is right.

Sending a reader’s brain into an endless do-loop of premature tidbits will surely detract from the thrill of the first peek at the latest adventures of your plucky protagonist. Not a stellar move.

No one needs an excessive info dump in the first few pages of a novel, whether it’s one of many in a series, or not. Yes, there were successful authors who broke this rule. James Michener comes to mind. What also comes to mind is I never, ever, got past the first thirty pages of his weighty tomes, Texas and Hawaii. Places I had lived and were definitely interested in, but not in mind-numbingly slow, excruciatingly boring detail.

One should never take as long to get to the point in a story as it takes for mountains to move from the depths of an ocean to crest the water’s surface and become islands. There’s a reason the derisive term “glacial pace” was coined, and it’s a no-no in novels.

When you’ve reached the point of writing book five in a series, however, it can be daunting indeed to refrain from potentially overwhelming a reader, leaving your carefully crafted action scene stuck in thickly worded mire from poorly placed info pouring forth like monsoon rains.

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside looking in to help an author see where four paragraphs about the protagonist and her activities in previous books don’t belong on page two in the middle of a dramatic scene. The whole point of chapter one being to catch the reader’s interest and draw them in. If you divert their attention, you’re doing a disservice to the literary moment you’ve so carefully crafted to spark a reader’s interest—and keep them reading.

Thanks to Sarah Tasz, a fearless and diplomatic meeting leader of the Sin City Writer’s Group I participate in, I was able to see I needed to move the bulk of two paragraphs into the second chapter that were unnecessary in the first. Not only that, I could now realize those two paragraphs had also been doing the dreaded “telling, not showing.”

To do more “showing” how my protagonist Rowan Layne was feeling after the traumatic event  in chapter one, I switched from inner dialogue to actual discourse with one of her alien love interests. Wherein, Rowan was able to ramble and rant as she is wont to do, with her perspective offered in a lively discussion rather than as boring back story babble damming up the flow of the opening scene.

Here’s the thing. A writer can also strangle themselves with regrets over not having done enough of that in previous books. But hey, it’s better to be getting better at drafting that first chapter for each go round, rather than the alternative.

The key is to stay in the moment, just like when drafting that first chapter. Don’t get diverted. Keep the pace moving so that you can exit stage one and move on to the next chapter, and the next book, reminding the reader of all those delicious details you’re anxious to impart. When the time is right.

And if you’re a writer in Las Vegas thinking the time is right to share your work for feedback, check out Sin City Writers Group on Facebook. A fun group for serious writers:




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