Writers dream of the day their book gets published, I dream of the day my debut novel, ‘A Time of Stones’ gets published. It marks the end of a long journey full of hard work, disappointment, and finally success.
Unless you’re self-published, writers will have their work under the nose of a literary agent, who will then determine whether or not a particular story will make it to final publication. Literary agents have their likes and dislikes, preferences that are personal and ones defined by their publishing house.
There are some strong opinions out there on what NOT to do at the beginning of a story, and here are some things below not to do.
One common theme in these suggestions is to not start off too slow. Spending too much time in a description of setting, character, and conflict may result in the loss of your audience at a critical point: the very beginning of the story.
Here are the seven tips to avoid at the beginning of novels that might help you get that big publishing break.
- No prologues. Gone are the days of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Literary agents, in particular, want the story to begin, not languish in a long introduction.
- Avoid purple prose, which is writing that is too wordy, flowery, full of unnecessary figurative language that is either irrelevant or off-topic.
- Information dumping. Don’t tell the audience everything right away. Leave a room for appropriate exposure of a character’s life as it is relevant to a particular moment in the story.
- Don’t open with a dream or an alarm clock. None of us like waking up to our alarm clock; it’s jarring and unpleasant but the audience shouldn’t also have to suffer from the “shock” of a blaring alarm. The goal is to keep readers awake and engaged, not to put them to sleep.
- Don’t get caught up in the internal monologue. The main character should not open with a lengthy monologue before readers have a chance to know who the character is and what they’re conflicted about. If you feel strongly about an inner monologue at the beginning of the story, use it as a way of establishing an objective without revealing too much.
- “If I knew then what I know now…” then you wouldn’t have a story to tell! Not knowing ahead of time the story’s end result is the whole point of telling the story, so don’t set yourself up for some kind of clichéd journey.
- Avoid the weather. Why? Because as much as the temperature or barometric pressure might play into creating a scene, setting the tone, or act as a foil to a character, it’s a super big YAWN for your audience. Rain is rain, the sun is the sun and clouds are clouds. Unless the novel is about a storm, and there are – for the sake of drama – intentional moments of weather-related descriptions – skip it altogether.
Do you know other beginnings writers should avoid?
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One thought on “Seven Beginnings to Avoid in a Novel”
I can’t agree more with number 3. Many writers I peer review for try to dump too much info into the first chapter that is not relevant to the immediate action. Give us the setup first and the context can come around later. I disagree about prologues though. While I have been rejected before by a indie publisher who cited my book having a prologue as an issue, this only proved how little they knew about good writing and how little care they took with my samples. My prologue was a character driven story, and those who read it told me it had quite a hook, which was the point. But it was not directly related to the core plot, thus the P label. With prologues, it really depends on how it is written. Fifteen pages of exposition world building is not going to work, no, but some action-centered setup can.
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