The 7 worst ways to start your novel

Aspiring novelists are always intimidated by the classics, especially when it comes to writing the opening of the novel. Look at what we have to live up to:

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

  • “Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” — The Stranger, Albert Camus

  • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984, George Orwell


Who wouldn’t be shaking in their boots at the thought of having to measure up to such greatness?

While I can’t tell you how to start your novel to get your name on that list, I can give you some tips on what not to do and I can give you dedicated cv writer you wish to find, so that your manuscript won’t end up in the trash can of agents and publishing houses around the country.

7. Dialogue

A clever way to begin a story is to have someone say something, and then the narrator talks about that character and who (if anyone) they’re talking to. You can take it too far, though. Don’t begin with characters locked in dialogue that goes on for pages. Your reader will be confused as to who these people are and what they’re talking about, and will also start to feel a bit like an eavesdropper.

6. Starting too early

So, you have an awesome plot for your novel? Be careful not to start too early in the story. A good beginning will involve some dramatic moment; whatever transpired before that moment can be mentioned later in the story. If you’re writing about a woman who gets married and then somehow makes a mess out of her marriage, then don’t start off by describing what she did the week before she got married. Start with the most dramatic part, and the most relevant to the plot: the wedding.

5. Using a cheesy or clichéd “hook

Getting your reader’s attention is the goal; going obviously out of your way to get it is not. Lines that make no sense or are overtly offensive (racial, sexual, etc.) are practically waving their arms in their air and screaming “I’m only here to get your attention!”

4. TMI (too much info)

All that so-called “important history” that the reader “absolutely HAS to know” to understand the story? Forget it. Just start the story. Sprinkle in background information throughout. If you give it up all at once, your work loses a sense of mystery and will fall flat. Plus, having to wade through all that backstory will really bore your reader.

3. Prologues

Having a prologue to set up all the history of your setting and characters is a sure-fire way to have your manuscript ignored. Agents and publishers hate them. (See #4 on giving too much information.) A prologue is seen as the lazy way out of giving the backstory. It’s an even bigger sin that just dumping all that information on the reader in Chapter 1, because with a prologue, the reader has no clue as to what’s relevant to the plot before even starting the actual story.

2. Endless description

Don’t go off on a paragraphs-long parade of adjectives for the setting, the weather, or your main character. Agents call these overly done descriptions a “laundry list,” and they will get your manuscript tossed out. Work your description into the story over time. Given a huge chunk of description, the reader will become bored and move on.

1. In a dream

Your main character should never “wake up in a cold sweat, relieved it was only a dream” at the end of chapter 1. A reader never feels more cheated than when they read an entire opening chapter, only to find out at the end that none of it was real. Now the reader not only is mad at you, but has no idea what the real story is about or what is true about the characters. What a waste of time. Shame on you.


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