Opening A Novel

I… I don’t think I really need to say that this isn’t about how to physically open a book with your hands… But to anyone who is looking for advice on how to do so, I’m sorry to disappoint. So, I was reading through a few openings of stories on the internet and I just had to make this post. You can thank the large amount of poor openings out there for the existence of what is sure to be yet another post of killer advice.

Chapter one. How the hell do you start it? This is essentially what this is going to be about. I’m sure I’m going to mention some points that came up in my prologue post, and I’m sure I’m going to mention points that some of you will think is just plain common sense, but that doesn’t stop them from occurring, so with nothing further to add, let’s just get right down to it.

Firstly, let’s get exposition out of the way. Both as a point and a feature of story openings. I would hope that we all know that it’s a poor idea to introduce your reader to your story by drowning them in a large wall of text about the world that they would not yet have any reason to care about. It’s such a basic point that I don’t think I even need to say more on it.

Going straight in with the action. The other end of the extreme. Sure, on paper… well, theoretically it sounds great starting a story with a high-octane car chase or an all out fight between two opposing parties, but it shares the same problem as just drowning the reader in exposition. Who are these people and why should I care about them? If you could apply a decent amount of context then it could become a pretty good way to open a story. Between this and exposition, if you were to pick one side I would say action is clearly the way to go, but of course a good balance between them is clearly better.

“Hi, my name’s John Smith and if you were to learn one thing from me, it’s to never subject your story to the grossness that is this opening.” Good god… This might just be a personal issue of mine, but in a first person story where the protagonist introduces themselves in the first line in any way such as my perfect example, it is a sure fire way to get me to put that book down and save my money. Find any other way to introduce your character and their name. Anything other than something so cheap as this.

Which brings me onto my next point. Now… keeping information from the reader is great and all, but there are some things that a reader does kind of need to know. There reaches a point when being mysterious becomes being ridiculous. There’s only so long you can go on referring to your POV character as “The man”, or “The woman”. For the love of God we need names! This is one thing that you should give to your reader as soon as possible without it coming across as… well… stupid, like the example in the previous point. It may not seem important but it can be frustrating reading about a character when you don’t even know their name.

Mundane conversations or actions. It goes without saying that your opening shouldn’t bore your reader, so why would they want to read about boring situations, like waking up or having breakfast? You don’t have to start the story at the start of the day when next to nothing of interest happens.

Finally–and while this isn’t exclusive to openings it’s still one that I read in far too many of them–the main character looking at themselves in the mirror and describing themselves in unnecessary, creepy, narcissistic detail. I mean really… Have you ever looked in a mirror and commented on every single feature you could see? Am I the only one who doesn’t do this? I would imagine not, so I would imagine a lot more people also find this way of describing characters (to use what is fast becoming my favourite word on this blog) ridiculous.

Thus ends another post for another week. Another week in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with weekly content. So, I may be back next week, and if I am you can be sure that it is legitimately going to be awful.

Until next week… (Don’t look forward to it)

Laurence out.

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2 responses to “Opening A Novel

  1. Was coming for advice on how to open a book, was sorely disappointed.
    Seriously though, any author who does the mirror thing should be put in exile on an island and be made to stay there for a sentence no less than three years, depending on the severity of the offence.
    Personally I feel that going right into the action is the best way to get things done, but not dramatic action like falling off a cliff or something, but like going to school or having a conversation about a relevant plot matter. A good writer can start you off like that and drop whatever hints to what you need to know about their world without you even noticing it, the opposite of the wall of text.

    • Don’t worry. How to open books will be my next post.
      Anyway, that kind of action as opposed to mindless action in an attempt to grab the readers’ attention, sure, I don’t see any issue with that.
      And that punishment for using mirrors to describe characters is kind of harsh… Or maybe it’s not harsh enough…

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