Drifting into Exposition
Rock Flint moved out of the shadows as Maloney walked by, and tapped him on the shoulder.
‘We need to talk, Mickey.”
‘Sure, Rock,‘ replied the crook.
But even before the words were out he was reaching into his inside pocket. Rock reacted instantly, diving behind the dumpster just as the first bullet zinged off the thin hollow metal container that was the only thing between him and the cold-eyed killer. Maloney somehow knew he was unarmed, because Rock heard the unhurried footsteps closing on his position. It was now that he needed to call upon all his years of Navy SEAL training…
He had joined the navy as a scrawny, innocent kid after running away from his home in Madison, Wisconsin following an argument with his old man. Life at home wasn’t all bad. His Mom loved him and always tried to provide the best for him despite money being tight. And he had always been a protective brother towards his sisters: Anthea, who had been thirteen when he left home, and Lavinia, eleven. She had a slight limp following a bad fall from a scooter. The problem was that Dad liked to drink, and drink brought out a violent side to him. He hadn’t always been that way. It started when the bottling factory closed down back in ninety-six. Rock remembered back to when he was eight and his father had come home from a bar…
This might seem like an exaggeration, and I’m sure you wouldn’t fall into the same trap – but I’ve seen variations on this many times. It’s not too hard to come up with an opening which grabs the reader. It might be a crash-bang-wallop action scene, or it might be something subtle and intriguing – but in their eagerness to tell the reader lots of interesting stuff about their hero or other character, writers all too often press the pause button in order to cram it all in at the start.
My thinking is to mostly feed information in bit by bit, and try to do it naturally so that readers barely notice it’s happening. So in the above case it’s fine and relevant to mention his military background, but we are waiting on tenterhooks for the next bullet, for Rock’s double back-flip over the dumpster and his expert death-grip on Maloney’s neck. By the time we’ve waded through the slow-paced life history we’ll have forgotten all about the danger he was in, and the tension has been lost. The other stuff could come, for example, in the soul-searching conversation between him and the lonely, troubled blonde he saves from a drunk in Chapter Four.
And this doesn’t only apply to action-packed, explosive openings. If you are setting up a strong opening scene, in the present, see it through to its conclusion and don’t get sidetracked.
That’s what I think anyway – but nobody knows anything.