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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How Not to Begin

As I said in an earlier post, I took second place in a first chapter contest. Since that time, I've thought more about the supreme importance of beginnings. After all, if our books and stories do not begin well--do not catch the reader's attention--the reader will not only put them down and find something else that interests them, but he'll also never read our really great discovery scenes, or worse, he'll totally miss that perfect climax we worked so diligently on.

A really great book, titled "Hooked," came out this last year, and I recommend it to anyone interested in improving their openings. However, as an introduction to the gold found in its pages, I will list a few of the author's "how not to begins." One reason I've chosen to list these is because, I'm embarrassed to say, I've used some of them. Another is because I've read these beginnings in the manuscripts of many budding authors and thought, "If only they knew." So, let this blog serve as a "heads up" on how not to begin.

1. Prologues. In most instances, this device only serves to distance the reader and detract from the immediacy we are trying to create. Furthermore, more often than not, it simply gives backstory which isn't necessary to the story or can be worked in elsewhere.

2. Dreams. Why? Because even if the dream is sensual, dangerous, or in any other way catches the reader's attention, it is, at its core, a lie, and as soon as we reveal it as such, our readers will distrust our ability to tell a good story. Now and in the future.

3. Absense of dialogue on the first few pages. The reason this is bad, according to "Hooked" author, Les Edgerton, is because it signals that our books are mostly narrative. Boring, boring narrative. Not a good thing.

4. Opening with dialogue (this includes inner dialogue). True, this method was popular back in the old days, but no more. Now, the reader doesn't want to guess who's speaking and why, because it creates a pause, a stall, or even a break in the reader's understanding of the story, and all breaks provide reasons for the reader to put our books down. Rather, the reader wants to feel she understands, line upon line, what is going on and feel as if she's experiencing the story with us.

As I said, these are only a few "don't do's," but I hope there are enough to satisfy your curiosity. If not, consider this a hook.


Rachelle said...

Great reminders of what we need to do to hook 'em!

Candace E. Salima said...

Prologue serve a purpose if an extended amount of time takes place between the prologue and the beginning of the story.

Dreams serve their purpose in writing, if the writer is very, very careful and doesn't overuse that tool. So I wouldn't necessarily buy into that one.

Opening with dialog, is tricky, I agree.