One of the “complaints” I sometimes hear about my work is that it “starts out slow.” This is usually followed with, “but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down,” or something along those lines. The presumption here is that a slow start is a negative thing. But is it?
The standard “rule” for beginning a story is that you start in medias res. “In the middle of things.” Meaning, you begin your story just before whatever event sets the plot in motion. Sure, sometimes this event is larger-than-life, filled with explosions and car chases, presented in such a way that your reader has absolutely no choice but to be sucked into the action. Is this effective? Of course. Is it a good idea? Well… sometimes yes, sometimes no. Just because you can start a story with high action doesn’t mean you should.
There are different sorts of stories, and they all benefit from different styles of storytelling. For some, you do want to be yanked right in by action. But other stories, you want to be brought in with intrigue, rather than adrenaline. In fact, sometimes a story begins with action because that’s the only way the story can rope in the reader, since there’s not much there, otherwise.
So I don’t consider it an insult when someone complains that my books start off slow. Rather, I wonder why the reader doesn’t seem to understand that this is by design, because it’s fitting. A fast-paced opening, while possible to do, would feel artificial and unnecessary. I like to think that readers don’t need such things to be interested in what’s going on.
But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.