Oct 15 2008
Please don’t open your novel with any of these.
1. The main character introduces himself to the reader (“Hi, my name is ____, but you can call me ____.”) Isn’t there anything more interesting you can tell us about the character than his name? If not, you should probably get back to the drawing board. This type of opening is also annoying because it’s usually the only part of the book that’s addressed to the reader.
2. The main character wakes up and does his morning routine. Instead of showing your character waking up, getting dressed and then having breakfast, why not skip to the interesting part? Furthermore, virtually everyone eats breakfast and gets dressed. Please show us something distinct about the character.
3. The main character is immediately plunged into danger. OK, so the hero is getting shot at. Why should we care? If you go down this route, make sure we’re emotionally invested in the character. Introduce the character a bit before throwing him to the sharks.
4. Something unusual and cryptic happens in the first half-page. For example, a mysterious woman hands the hero a baby and then walks away. Typically, this type of opening could be improved by spending more time describing what the hero’s life is like before the strangeness starts. I’d recommend that novelists spend at least half a chapter describing the hero in his element. Then, when you shake up the status quo, we will have a better feel for the character moving forward. For example, CS Lewis described his characters for several chapters before bringing them to Narnia.
5. The narrator delivers a geography lesson. I recommend showing us your characters before the world, particularly if your world is similar to Middle-Earth.
6. The opening sentence uses pronouns for “suspense.” “Until it happened, I had no idea how badly they had screwed me.” This narrator is obviously hiding what “it” and “they” are. That’s not suspenseful, just annoying. Make sure you give us enough to understand what’s going on. For example, we could rewrite that sentence as “until the dragon’s face exploded into a gooey mess, I had no idea how badly Adventurers, Inc. had screwed me.” Please remember to let readers know everything that the point of view character knows.