"Fury on Soufriere Hills," the fourth novel in the Caribbean Adventure Series, is finished, sort of. Although I have worked out most of the kinks, developed my characters, created and resolved tensions, I am still struggling with the most important part of a middle grade novel, the beginning.
While youngsters are more tolerant of flights of fantasy than adults might be, they are less likely to keep reading a book that does not grab them immediately. The main comment that I got from the critique group I attended a few weeks ago was that the action started too late, page 8 for goodness sake, definitely too late for a middle grade novel. I consulted with my local experts (aka my children) and they concurred. My son, an avid reader, mentioned that his friends disliked some of the books he loved and especially the ones that had a slow start. He was willing to stick with them, but many of his friends were not.
He suggested an alternate beginning. In this one, the action started on the first page, with Mark, the main character tumbling down a hill into a … wait a minute, you’ll have to read the book to find that out. Mark would then gripe about how he had found himself in this predicament, thus giving me an opportunity to go back a little in time and create the setting. I wrote it this way and sent it off to my first level of readers.
“I thought that this paragraph was here by mistake,” was the response to the very opening of the book. Clearly this did not work the way that I had done it. It is a great idea, but I had so much background to cover that there was too much (those pesky 8 pages) between the fast paced beginning and the resumption of the action.
So I am now on the fifth version (I can count, just did not want to bore you with each revision) of this opening and I think that I finally have the right balance. I hope you will too, when this book is finally published.