Right now, I’m reading The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice, and like all of her books, it’s slow out of the gate. I put it down to read something else, but I came back to it, because I know her books never start with a bang. They meander into the story. By about page 80, I was glad I did. Stuff is starting to happen, and although the plot isn’t the most innovative, exciting thing, the writing is beautiful. Most of us who write werewolf stories have the big bite scene, and then earth-shattering physical changes, and suddenly the character is a full-fledged, ravenous werewolf. Rice’s bite scene was chaotic — what happened? Did he even get bit? What bit him? The changes were slow, building, the emotions and changes slight, almost unnoticed at first. Before long, I won’t be able to put the book down. I’ll be reading in the grocery line, at stoplights, late into the night.
But I wonder — if Anne Rice were to try to get this book published as a first-time author, would she get turned down? Is there a place in publishing anymore for books that start quietly and build inexorably?
When you send out queries, agents usually ask for the first chapter, maybe the first three if you’re lucky. So we writers know we have to hook them within the first chapter. You can’t develop characters, build suspense, and explore backstory in one chapter. You have to get that plot moving.
But what about books that are character driven, where the plot could only happen to this character, whose unique set of traits put them into this situation?
What about stories where you need to understand the setting before the plot can launch? Where the history plays a pivotal role?
I do worry about the quality of the books we’ll put out in the future. As it is, it seems that everyone says they want something different and unique, and all you see on the shelves are cookie-cutter books that repeat the same things — how many YA books can be set in a boarding school? I worry that we’re going to have nothing but “sure things,” copycat books that are just like something that worked before and burst out of the blocks on page one with a breathless plot, no backstory, and no character development.
Oh, well, there’s always indie.