back stories.

Image by emdot via Flickr

How important is the opening line to your novel? Some would say it’s a make or break scenario, and much discussion has taken place on many a message board over this very issue. Here are a few it’s probably best to avoid:

  1. Once upon a time. A startling lack of originality here, and heavily influenced by children’s fairy tales, which ain’t so good if you’re writing a political thriller. Or maybe . . .?
  2. Extended scenery and description. The vast majority of readers these days will prefer to be plunged into the plot, some action, or some insights into the character, not waves crashing onto rocks, or butterflies floating through meadows.
  3. A dream sequence. Unconvincing. Let’s face it, the dreams we have can be pretty wild. But they’re rarely connected to our everyday lives, so it’s tricky to build on a dream and make it believable.
  4. Giving too much away too soon. Okay, so you’ve got a killer plot, and you want the world to know the story. Too many details and too much back story can stifle the reader. Let your characters breathe, build tension, create drama page by page, but steady as she goes.
  5. Extended dialogue. Important to use this to drive the story and to characterise, but, unless it’s spectacularly good, too much dialogue at the start (or in other places) can cease to be natural.

When I began writing Sliding on the Snow Stone, I opened with a prologue – another device which has come under criticism by many commentators as inadvisable to use. However, I did! And I’ll be covering the use of prologues in a subsequent post.


3 thoughts on “5 Opening Sequences to Avoid When Writing Your Best-Seller

  1. “Probably best to avoid” is right. I think all of these, except for number 4, are breakable rules, and should be broken if the writer can pull it off well. It really all depends on how good the writing is, and the story itself. What is the story about? Who is your audience? What tone do you want to set?

    Prologues depend, I think, on the scope of the story. I think it’s better to give a prologue that introduces a dynamic story than to simply plunge a reader into a fantasy that could use some explaining, even if just a half a page. A short “This is a fantasy novel, expect things to be a bit different that real life.” Many books without a “formal” prologue still introduce the story. But then it’s also good not to start a story off with too much back story (not to be confused with number 4, above).

    As always, writing requires a subtle touch.

    • Thanks for that contribution J.R.! I’m not one for slavishly following rules, but reflecting and thinking about frameworks which can be used (or not) is a useful exercise in itself.

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