Lately I’ve been studying the elders of our faith. Not religious faith. The other one. The one that says you must write, write everyday and improve in our craft.
I started with Heinlein, which is usually where I start. Over the next few weeks I’ll probably move to Bradbury and Pratchett, with a few detours through minor prophets as the mood strikes. (If no one has read Simon Hawke’s time war series , do, now. Massive fun. Also, read Simak’s Way Station and City and perhaps Our Children’s Children – all of them crying out for a rewrite to modern standards, and I don’t mean an edit, but a recast.)
Anyway, all of you of the female persuasion who are convinced Heinlein is anti-woman – the feminists who proclaimed that gospel never actually READ Heinlein, or not without being sure of what they would find. Yeah, he had – some – different expectations of female behavior. He was a man of his time. As we are women of ours. And if you don’t think the pendulum will swing back again, sister, I have a bridge in NYC I’d like to sell you. So take it easy and read for what’s there, and for what you can learn. (I had a friend who was furious at Heinlein for having Friday raped. She thought he was doing it because he liked the idea. Mind you, if a woman had written it, she would have thought it was because she wanted to show how oppressed women are. This type of semiotic understanding is wrong. Also the D word – Dumb. You should never allow your mind to be sequestered by an ideology. Any ideology. The rape of Friday shows us several things – besides being plausible. Rape IS a weapon used against women over most of the world – including the inner consequences of her not considering herself QUITE human.)
What I learned in reading what I consider his first work with true voice, Double Star, is the subject for another post. But what I learned in just starting Starship Troopers is the "advantage of effective beginnings." He starts ST just before a combat drop, even though he goes back to the spoiled-rich-kid-joins-the-army story afterwards. This is called starting in media-res, or in the middle of the action. (Not, as one of my character thinks "The media rests.") and it is a tricky thing to handle but very effective, particularly for coming of age novels where your character isn’t very effective at the beginning.
Have others used this? Sure. But Heinlein uses just enough... er... heinleining – i.e. burying of the worldbuilding details – to make the pay off extraordinary.
As everyone here knows by now, I devote an extraordinary amount of time to beginnings. Often a good half of the time I give any novel. And when they’re not going well, I bitch, moan, behave like a bear with two mad heads, and generally make myself a pain until it clicks. Normally, I advise everyone to start at the beginning and I rarely break that advice. So, for those who write – and read – in your experience, what are the pitfalls and side-benefits of beginning in media-res? As readers, does it bother you? Does it feel like bait-and-switch?
*Face Down In The Bone Marrow Pie is the title of a very decent mystery. The title just seemed appropriate to this post.