The idea of being ‘fashionably late’ is familiar to most of us. It’s an expression referring to someone who shows up at an event, like a party, after the time it was supposed to start. This doesn’t apply to people get lost because they can’t operate their GPS, or who who simply can’t find their keys and show up late by accident. Being fashionably late is something that’s done on purpose.
Why would anybody want do that?
One possibility is to create the impression they’re too important and busy with other social engagements to be there on time. I’d like to believe most people aren’t so self-important as all that. The reason I think people would want to show up late is that the start of a party can be so boring.
Anyone who’s ever been to a party knows it takes a little while for the guests to loosen up. Things usually start off with people clustered into small groups, eyeing the refreshments, and silently wondering who’s going to be the first to break the ice and hit the dance floor. While this might make a nice setting for an intimate chat with a few close friends, it doesn’t sound much like a party. If this stage lasts too long, experienced partygoers might not even stick around beyond the h’orderves.
Being fashionably late, however, means waiting to show up for the party until after the ice has broken, the music is hot, and the people aren’t just staring at the snack bar – they’re already eating and drinking and are out on the dance floor. They skip they slow part and come in when everybody’s already having fun!
How does this apply to writing a story?
You’ve likely heard the advice “Don’t start your story at the beginning.” Why not? Because beginnings are slow. Beginnings are boring. Beginnings are just the set up for what’s going to happen. If you want to grab your reader’s attention and keep it, you need to bring them into your story when things are already happening. If your story doesn’t open with tension, action, or drama (no melodrama, please), the chances are that experienced readers (like experienced partygoers) won’t stick around for Chapter Two – if they even get that far.
Right now you may be asking, “But how will anyone know why the things that are happening are happening if I don’t start at the beginning?” In other words, “What about the backstory?!”
Well, when it comes to parties, there’s always plenty of time for people to catch up on the latest gossip while they’re mingling and chit-chatting with the other guests. But all that happens after the party’s already started. When it comes to backstory, there will also be plenty of time for you to drop in a little later (if you must) but only after your story gets going. Otherwise, you may find your readers have skipped out on you for another story already in progress.