25 January 2012

10 Lousy Story Starts

by Diane Carlisle

When I’m browsing a book shelf for something to read, I typically just reach for anything and read the first page and if it doesn’t hook me right away, I might go to the second page or even to the third page. However, there are a few things that if encountered on the first page, I’m most likely going to close the book with a sideways glance and my nose up in the air. Bad, huh? I know. Here are those things that make me drop a book faster than Obama spending our tax dollars.

1. Please don’t start your novel with a weather report. You know what I mean. “It was a cold, dark night and the rain blasted the windshield like a windstorm in a desert.” This is the modern day version of “Once upon a time…”

2. I don’t like to read a first paragraph that starts with a character driving in a car, traveling somewhere. Why? Because it’s boring. You’re just writing what ten thousand people before you wrote only trying it with an arrangement of different words. It’s painful to read. Readers skip this stuff anyway, so why waste your time writing it? Instead of reading the words, your reader hears a song playing in their head, “I’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places…”

3. How many books must I read which start off with a character waking to an alarm clock or coming home to listen to an answering machine? And that phone call in the middle of the night? That’s not what Christopher Vogler refers to as the “Call to Adventure”. This is just another way for a writer to “start” putting words onto the page. When you get into the groove of writing your novel, please go back and delete this first scene. It’s been done. Over. And over. And over, again.

4. If you’re writing a mystery novel, please don’t introduce a nanny or butler. I will automatically assume they did it and not read the rest of the book. As a matter of fact, if I read the back cover of a mystery novel and it mentions castle, mansion or lost key, I won’t read it.

5. If you’re writing a romance novel, please don’t mention children unless they were killed off along with the ex-wife in a horrible accident years ago, leaving this gorgeous, wealthy, pain-stricken man, with a void in which only the virginal heroine can fill. Is that mean? Probably, but in reality, children and exs are huge in the baggage department.

6. If I read one more horror novel depicting a painting on the wall in which the eyes in the painting follow you and suddenly look away when you peer back, I will scream. And not from the horror of it either. Even the phone call which quietly yet urgently reveals the killer is in the house hasn’t been played out this much.

7. Breakfast in the morning with kids getting ready for school and a husband stuffing toast in his mouth while attempting to dress himself… is not a good story beginning. Why? Who am I to say it’s not a good story beginning? I’m a reader. Trust me, it sucks.

8. If I read more than one ‘ ly ’ adverb in the first paragraph of a novel, it gets put down automatically. This is a no-no. “The Baroness slipped gingerly from the satin covers and stretched effortlessly before promptly placing her feet into her slippers and daintily waltzing out onto the veranda.” Okay, that sucks, even without the adverbs. But, I think the point is made.

9. Don’t start your story with your main character taking a stroll through their house and garden. This is where the writer describes everything down to the detail, from the embroidered tapestry and cherry wood stained crown molding, to the French doors leading toward the rock garden and a ten by ten gazebo framed by white azalea bushes. Not necessary! This is where your character lives, day in and day out, right? Trust me, they’ve seen it before. Writers who do this are doing it for the pleasure of the reader. I get that. But it doesn’t add to the plot and it’s not really character development. Okay, so maybe the writer wants to show the character’s background, maybe give hints to the character’s class? She drives a Lexus; let’s move on. See what I mean?

10. If you’re writing in first person point of view, please don’t start with a physical description while your character is gazing at her reflection in the mirror. This is so jarring. In reality, do you think I’d actually walk up to someone and introduce myself like so, “Hi, my name is Diane Carlisle. I have brown hair, brown eyes and a slim figure. My hair is straight and I have a great smile.” I’d get some strange looks, wouldn’t I? Maybe after a short pause, “Why…of course you are! And, of course you do!” They’d walk away knowing I’m just a special person who rode the short bus.


So, your turn! What makes you put down a book before you even finish the first page?

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