Openings : how not to start your novel

A few tips I picked up along the way on how not to mess up your novel from the start… or on how to hook your reader with your first paragraph.

What you shouldn’t start your novel with:

–          The weather report: “It was warm and cloudy with a chance of scattered showers on the day Harry and Sally met.” Just start with Harry meeting Sally and include the weather later.

–          A dream: “… And then Sally woke up.” Let us start with something actually happening, shall we?

–          Your main character waking up and proceeding to having a normal day: “It was a day like any other day and Sally woke up, got out of bed, hopped in the shower and got dressed like she did every day. Little did she know that it was the day her life was going to change…” Just fast forward to the actual life-changing event.

–          A description of your novel’s setting: “Once upon a time, in a land where there were deep forests, green pastures and mirror-like lakes…” Action must come first, THEN the setting and world-building.

–          A page-long dialogue: “You’re joking”, Sally said. “No, I’m not,” Harry replied. “It is true, I swear. Just ask Marny.” “I don’t believe you,” Sally retorted. “I wish you did,” Harry insisted.” Meanwhile, the reader has no clue what’s going on and doesn’t really care.

–          Your main character running: “Sally was running through the woods and she could hear the beast not far behind her.” Sure, it is an in medias res situation. But it has been done so many times before and you can be much more original.

–          A sex scene: “Sally screamed with pleasure and collapsed on Harry’s muscular body.” Unless you’re writing erotica or romance, this is to be avoided on your first page.

–          A prologue that gives away the ending: “Sally was running through the woods, knowing she had no way of escaping Harry’s murderous intent. Yet when they had met six months before, she would have never guessed their relationship would end like this.” The fact that Twilight has such a prologue doesn’t mean you have to do it too.

What you should start your novel with:

–          A catchy first sentence : “Most people would probably call me a ghost. I am, after all, dead. But it wasn’t so long ago I was alive, you see. I was just 18. I had my whole life in front of me.” Remember Me by Christopher Pike.

–          An In Medias Res (“in the middle of things”) situation: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

What you could start your novel with:

–          Your main character waking up and everything is different: “When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.”  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

–          A meaningful prologue: “A mile above Oz, the Witch balanced on the wind’s foreward edge, as if she were a green fleck of the land itself, flung up and sent wheeling away by the turbulent air.” Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

–          One sentence from a dialogue followed by some narration: “I SEE …” said the vampire thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window.” Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

So how does your novel start? Have you avoided all the above pitfalls ? Do you think these ‘rules’ for opening are worth following? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

3 thoughts on “Openings : how not to start your novel

  1. kathils says:

    Opening line: “The Goddess be damned!”

  2. Love this article! Opening line of my soon-to-be-published YA novel: “Every morning I pray I won’t wake up, but whoever’s up there clearly doesn’t give a crap.”

  3. EM Castellan says:

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your first line! Love it 🙂

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