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How quickly do you have to start killing people off?

Minor spoiler for my still-untitled book about souls that's coming out this fall: there's a bit of death in it.

It's a dark comedy thriller about an insurance rep who gets involved in a vicious black market to steal and resell people's souls.  So, death shouldn't exactly be a surprise since it's somewhat inherent to the plot.

I'm really excited about wrapping it up and bringing it to Kindle later this year, and I hope all of you are just as excited to read it.  But right now I'm agonizing over the pacing.

An extremely long time ago, I bitched about story length on this blog and I said that 100,000 words is pretty much the upper limit for what I consider to be tolerable.  What I failed to discuss was what I think the limit should be for the first act.  Do you go by an even three-way split and say 33,000 words?  And can you use 33,000 words as the acceptable length even if the total story length is shorter than 100,000 words?

I guess another way to put it is this: how long can you hold off on getting to the point before you start pissing off your readers?

It's a tricky question to answer.  Right now I don't get into the actual "black market" part of the book until maybe 28,000 words in - and this is out of an 85,000 word story.  In other words, it's almost exactly one-third of the story.  Which means only two-thirds of the story is about the thing it's actually supposed to be about.

I'm not wasting time with those 28,000 words. The world of the story has a lot of concepts and things that don't exist in our world, and I want to make sure I take the proper amount of time to introduce them.  I'm also trying to build the right kind of calm, day-to-day banality-in-the-face-of-injustice tone to make the story work, and I need a bit of time to do that.

All the same, I don't want readers to get tired of the book and put it down before the real action starts.  It would be like waiting until forty minutes into Spider-Man for Spider-Man to show up.

I'm going to call back another book that I've been reading recently that drives home my point:

'Salem's Lot is a book about vampires.  You wouldn't know this if you stopped reading before the halfway point - which I did.  I read about a third of the way in and kept thinking, "Wow, Stephen King sure does like to talk about his goddamn small towns, huh?"  Finally, I got sick of waiting for a plot to break out and I put this down for a couple of months.

Only recently - and after another hundred pages or so - did I get to a point where people start getting killed and we get any kind of forward momentum.  You can safely start reading at the halfway mark of this one and you wouldn't miss a thing.

I don't want that for my book.  I don't want people to hear about my world and think, "Fascinating, but I heard this was about a black market for souls?  When's that gonna happen?"  I want to get the reader into the action as soon as possible and keep them gripped.

So... do I just go into my first act with a cleaver?  Will that make the story hard to follow?  How soon is too soon to start dropping all the crazy plot twists?

I don't know.  I really have no idea.  Anybody want to read my current draft and let me know your thoughts?

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