Tuesday, July 19, 2016
From the Beginning – Five Writer’s Gripes About Novel Starts
I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. Even if you aren’t both I’m sure there are things about the beginning of a book, the very first sentence that just bug the heck out of you.
Seriously. Me too.
So I’m going to talk here a bit about beginnings – specifically the very beginning – the first sentence of a novel which ideally is supposed to grip the reader by the eyeballs and not let them go.
Um, yeah. So here are five ‘do-nots’ from my perspective as both writer and reader.
First, it’s the beginning. I know nothing of what’s going on so let’s not start with a really long sentence. Those usually aren’t too good anywhere in the book, but at the very beginning they can be killers. A long sentence provides just too many ideas and bits and pieces of information all randomly connected for the reader to make any sense of by the time the sentence is finished. And this, as the very first sentence…not a good idea. Way to turn off the reader. Come on! It’s the first sentence.
Second, I’m not wild about books that start right out with dialog. I mean at this point, need I reiterate, it’s the beginning. The reader isn’t acquainted with any of the characters, knows nothing about the plot, where they’re at or what they are doing or intend to do. So why would the reader care what someone is saying at the very inception of the book? When I see a start like that I suspect it’s a sort of a gimmick the writer learned somewhere. I know I know, “it’ll all make sense later”. Probably not for me because that second sentence better be a doozy to keep me reading beyond that first, “So you wanna go to the park?” dialog bomb at the beginning. A beginning like that doesn’t tweak any questions or raise any interest in my brain. Just lost interest. On to something else.
Another thing (I guess this is the third) that gripes me is the revelation the whole opening was a dream or maybe a flashback or maybe a visitation from another dimension. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keep on track. Diversions can occur later, but I want that first sentence hook to really give me something. It’s supposed to be a hook, remember?
Okay, next. The fourth gripe on my list. Since this is the beginning and I as a reader have no idea what is happening, why would I care where it’s happening? I mean a writer showing off some purple prose in the first sentence without connecting how it’s relevant to the story is probably going to lose readers. Fast. Readers are in it for the story, not a detailed description of the scenery. As the story evolves the reader might well enjoy a vivid description, but please, make that description relevant. This is not a showcase for the writer’s vocabulary.
And the fifth and final frustration on my novel beginningslist is the excruciatingly ordinary start. You know, something like: At six in the morning, on March 2, the start of his thirtieth year, John Snow climbed out of bed. There are exceptions of course and writers who can pull this off, but mostly what is there about an introductory sentence like that that would catch the attention of a reader?
So those are my gripes. Have you got any novel gripes that really bug you? Either a beginning or something else? Things that might make you just close a book and forget it. Toss in a comment below if you do…or if you disagree with any of my complaints. Go ahead, you know you want to.