He got up and sat on the edge of the bedstead with his back to the window. “It’s better not to sleep at all,” he decided. There was a cold damp draught from the window, however; without getting up he drew the blanket over him and wrapped himself in it. He was not thinking of anything and did not want to think. But one image rose after another, incoherent scraps of thought without beginning or end passed through his mind. He sank into drowsiness. Perhaps the cold, or the dampness, or the dark, or the wind that howled under the window and tossed the trees roused a sort of persistent craving for the fantastic. He kept dwelling on images of flowers, he fancied a charming flower garden, a bright, warm, almost hot day, a holiday—Trinity day. A fine, sumptuous country cottage in the English taste overgrown with fragrant flowers, with flower beds going round the house; the porch, wreathed in climbers, was surrounded with beds of roses. A light, cool staircase, carpeted with rich rugs, was decorated with rare plants in china pots. He noticed particularly in the windows nosegays of tender, white, heavily fragrant narcissus bending over their bright, green, thick long stalks. He was reluctant to move away from them, but he went up the stairs and came into a large, high drawing-room and again everywhere—at the windows, the doors on to the balcony, and on the balcony itself—were flowers. The floors were strewn with freshly-cut fragrant hay, the windows were open, a fresh, cool, light air came into the room. The birds were chirruping under the window, and in the middle of the room, on a table covered with a white satin shroud, stood a coffin. The coffin was covered with white silk and edged with a thick white frill; wreaths of flowers surrounded it on all sides. Among the flowers lay a girl in a white muslin dress, with her arms crossed and pressed on her bosom, as though carved out of marble. But her loose fair hair was wet; there was a wreath of roses on her head. The stern and already rigid profile of her face looked as though chiselled of marble too, and the smile on her pale lips was full of an immense unchildish misery and sorrowful appeal. Svidrigaïlov knew that girl; there was no holy image, no burning candle beside the coffin; no sound of prayers: the girl had drowned herself. She was only fourteen, but her heart was broken. And she had destroyed herself, crushed by an insult that had appalled and amazed that childish soul, had smirched that angel purity with unmerited disgrace and torn from her a last scream of despair, unheeded and brutally disregarded, on a dark night in the cold and wet while the wind howled

25 Terrible Ways to Start a Novel

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Wondering how to start a novel?

Well, avoid these 25 mistakes and you’ll be well on your way.

This list was made in honor of NaNoWriMo, which started yesterday, and I post it as a tribute to all those souls trying to knock out 50,000 words in a mere 30 days. Good luck to all of you.

But if you want more than luck, read these tips for how to start a novel and avoid some frequent pitfalls!

1. Starting 5 or 10 pages before the beginning of the story

This is the most common mistake I see in books I edit. The writer is settling into the story, giving information and backstory, rather than starting the actual story! Find the real beginning of your story — it’s where the character encounters a problem or conflict — and make sure that it is your first paragraph (or at least your first page).

2. Not introducing your main character immediately

It’s annoying to read 5 pages and discover that the character I was investing in turns out to be irrelevant. I want the main character right away, and I want to know what’s troubling them. Don’t try to be coy in your novel openings.

You can be coy in the bedroom, but not in the beginning of your novel.

3. Introducing a whole boardroom of characters

lego-1044891_960_720Nobody likes meeting 20 people at the same time, in real life or in fiction. So do your reader a favor and stick with a few important characters in the first chapter. Meaning two, or three, or four.

I read a lot of novel drafts that introduce eight or more characters in the first chapter, and that’s just confusing. Your readers are smart, and when you make them feel dumb because they can’t remember who Tommy Garanger is, and why he has a bedsheet on his head, they won’t want to keep reading.

4. Not creating conflict on the first page

If I can’t latch onto some danger, mystery, or conflict, I don’t want to keep reading. There are millions of books in the world for me to read; give me a reason as soon as possible to keep reading yours.

5. Starting with summary rather than a scene

This is probably the second most common mistake I see. I don’t want to hear information about your scenario, I want to smell it, taste it, and see it firsthand. And make sure that you’re starting in the middle of a scene, not at the boring beginning. Start in the middle and let the reader figure it out.

6. Treating the reader as if they have to know everything right away

A mystery is good. You don’t need to dump everything you know about this world into the lap of the reader right away. Give it some time. If you craft it right, they’ll keep reading to find out all that stuff.

7. Treating the reader like they’re dumb

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Always trust your reader. Believe that they are smart and they will get it if you don’t spell it out. So don’t spell it out. Don’t over explain.

8. Starting in 3rd person if the story is in 1st

Get your POV down right away. And don’t tease the reader with an alternative point of view. If there’s a first person POV speaker, I want to hear them as soon as possible. Preferably the first sentence.

9. Starting in Present Tense

Don’t even. Don’t even try it. It’s such the mark of a beginning writer. Spare us all and start in past tense. That way you won’t be going through your manuscript later changing every single verb tense (it’s tiring; trust me, I’ve done it).

10. Starting with dialogue
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I don’t care who is talking if I don’t know them. Give me a reason to care about those words by showing me a character in a particular scene.

11. Starting with description

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Describing a mountain or a prairie full of flowers or anything in the natural world wins the award for the most boring way to start a story. Nothing could be less interesting to your reader. If they wanted to look at a nice scene, they would Google some pictures.

Nobody ever reads a book based on great descriptions. Nobody ever recommends another book to somebody by saying, “Dude, this book had amazing description!”

12. Starting with a dream sequence

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No. No. No. Absolutely not. I want something that is real. I don’t want a cheap trick. Give me reality and make that reality gripping. Anybody can make a dream fascinating, but at some point your character has to wake up, and then your reader will feel cheated. Rule of thumb: never cheat your reader.

Also, I’ll go ahead and say you should probably avoid dream sequences in the rest of your novel, too. Just avoid them everywhere. There are much better ways to show your character’s subconscious.

13. Starting with a character that will soon die

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Unless this is a slasher film or a crime novel, I don’t want to meet anyone that I will soon have to say goodbye to. I want a character I can grow with, that I can learn to know and love.

It’s a kind of trick to show me someone that you’re going to kill off, and it gives me doubts about entering a world controlled by such a capricious god.

14. World building

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I actually care about the characters in this new world, so don’t just give me information about the way the world works. Show a specific character encountering a difficulty in that world, and I’ll figure out how the world works by seeing how that character struggles.

15. Fancy language

mistakes-made-in-a-novel

Please don’t try too hard to sound pretty. I want plain language that creates drama and interesting characters. I don’t want to see your attempt to look smart.

Because that’s what fancy language is about, isn’t it? You making sure that everyone knows you’re smart. Guess what? Everyone will think you’re smart if you can just tell an amazing story. So concentrate on the story. True genius is knowing characters and knowing plot and knowing what to say in each sentence.

16. Writing a prologue

Prologues suck. Because by definition, they come before the story, rather than being the actual story. So skip them and get right to the story. You can always have a flashback and include the prologue information later.

17. Getting into Backstory

I don’t care about what happened 10 years ago or 300 years ago. I care about this present moment. With a particular character encountering a particular problem. Once you have me interested in that, then you can go back and show how the past is relevant to this particular problem.

18. Description of a character

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This is going to be boring 90% of the time. Why don’t you write a description of the character, print it out, post it to your cork board, and then check it when you need to remind yourself what your character looks like? Because really, a description is for you, not the reader.

Maybe once you’re deeper into the book, you can dish out a few clues that clarify the physical appearance of your character.

19. Starting with trivia

What information are you offering at the beginning of your story? Is it trivial? Could it count as mere trivia in the world you’re creating? Because you want to offer important information at the beginning. Maybe not the most important information, but you don’t want to tease the reader. Give them something hefty right at the beginning.

20. Failing to end the first chapter with a bang

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The end of your first chapter is the springboard from which the reader will leap into the rest of your novel. Don’t go out with a whimper. Show them something to make them keep reading.

The end of your first chapter is also the first natural place where your reader can stop reading. It’s a built-in stopping point. And if they put your book down, will they pick it up again? Compel them to keep reading.

21. Breaking the rules of your genre

If you’re writing a romance novel, don’t start with a sports game. If you’re writing a sci-fi novel, don’t start with an in-depth character analysis. If you’re writing Christian novel, don’t start with foul language. If you’re writing literary fiction, don’t start with a cliche.

Whatever you’re writing, know that genre well, and know what is allowed and what isn’t allowed.

22. Using loads of cliches

The beginning of your book needs to be original. You accomplish this by avoiding two types of cliches: the sentence cliches (“avoid it like the plague”) and by avoiding cliches of plot and character (the smart but ugly sister).

23. Waking up to an alarm clock

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This is unexciting. Now if they woke up to a gunshot, or an alien invasion, or to a missing wife, those would all be exciting ways to wake up. Choose the unusual over the mundane.

24. Believing confusion is the same thing as subtlety

I think subtlety is a wonderful tool to have in the writer’s toolbox. But if the beginning of your book is just confusing the reader, you’re not being subtle.

Subtlety relies upon the reader understanding … so make sure everything that is subtle is also clear. If you have to err between giving the reader information outright and giving it elliptically, choose the straightforward route. People would rather understand the story than be toyed with.

25. Starting with humdrum sentences

Does this contradict #15, about using fancy language? No. I’m not asking you to use fancy language, I’m asking you to sound different than other writers. How do you do that?

By getting some attitude in your prose. By making your writing sound like it’s from a place, rather than from everywhere and nowhere. By getting voice. Agents and publishers say that “voice” is the most important thing they look for in a writer, so make sure the start of your novel displays some of the language that makes your character into a true character.

How DO I Start a Novel?

Here is a list of 20 excellent first paragraph strategies and how you can use them.

FAQ:

If I avoid all these mistakes, will my book be good?

Not necessarily, but you’ll have a much better chance. Since these are the most common mistakes when beginning a novel, you’ll have sidestepped the easiest errors and hopefully your book will work better because of it. Maybe hire an editor once you’ve finished and they can help you avoid other errors.

How to start a novel

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72 comments

  1. On the third day of NaNo now and plenty of food for thought here. Must read through my opening lines again . Just one point – aren’t there 30 days in November?

  2. Wow! Your comments are a real eye opener ,and though not an expert like you , I can certainly relate to everything you say .
    Haven completed twelfe children stories two full lenght novels and a wast amount of fables , parabels and poetry , I can honestly say , that in future , I shall follow your advice to the books . Thanks a lot .

  3. Yes I agree with all of that. Big fancy “non everyday” words are a turn off for me. A gripping story with good characters is what I want to read. I’ve just written my first short story. 29000 words in 78 pages and probably have done lots of things wrong so I’ll have to go over it.

    Thanks

  4. Honestly this is everything I have been looking for, your posts are magically helpful, I have recently started to write and I did not know where to head in addition to find the propel kind of help, but one day while browsing through some sites I found BookFox which was one of the best decision i have ever made to stick with.

    Thank you very much

  5. Altough the article on this site appears to have been written at least a year ago, the advice helps me understand the mind of an agent and publisher which has always been a mystery to me and goes a long way to explain ‘rejection letters’….as they never reveal WHY…I’m so grateful to you for opening this door. Most of these 25 points, I don’t do (even though I’ve been temptedin the past), but I do use ‘fancy words’ as my current book is a literary piece which starts with an alliteration.

  6. I agree with most of these, but I can’t tell you how many successfully (commercially, anyway) novels I’ve read that start with prologues and are written in the present tense (Hunger Games, Ready Player One, etc.). Just saying.

    1. That is what I was thinking! Harry Potter has prologues and it is one of the most popular books in the world. Also, I have read many fantastic books with descriptions in the first chapter. I am confused. This is good advice though.

      1. Yes, there are always exceptions to every rule. Apparently if you’re JK Rowling you can get away with it, but for the rest of us? Can be harder to pull off.

    2. Absolutely 100% in agreement with you. I’m currently writing a Ghost Story that begins in “Progressive Present Tense” and a description of the house she’s trapped in. I’ve had it read by countless editors and writers. Most of them think it’s wonderful. I think the advice in this article is mostly great, but a tad bit pedantic.

  7. I agree with Library Momma – so many good novels start in the present tense (and stay that way the whole way through). Also, the POV one…are there exceptions? Like if the book is narrated in first and third person (which, I know, sounds like a disaster. But there is a very specific mental-health-related reason for it).

    1. Of course there are exceptions! To both present tense and POV. I’m talking in generalities here. If you choose those tenses and POVs specifically, with the knowledge that it’s a little more difficult to pull off, then more power to you.

  8. Hello BOOKFOX, how lovely to make your acquaintance. I found your article to be quite helpful and intriguing, but I’m still having some issues with ways/scenarios to start a/my novel. I’m currently writing/working on writing a book or story where I had originally wanted to begin with a restaurant scene, with dialogue from a news report on the television. After reading your article and several others I have found this to be… quite a disastrous beginning for readers and critics. But I am unable to think of ANY OTHER SCENARIOS to start the story. I tried reading through more of your article to help find something to use because I’m really interested in writing this story. Although this has nothing to do with this specific article (although, in a way it does), what are some good ways to come up with ideas to start a story WITHOUT exceeding the boundary lines of “shitty ways to start a story or novel”?
    Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Taliesin

    1. Hi Taliesin, I don’t know the point of the restaurant scene and the TV news report but how about starting the first sentence with a waitress or kitchen hand dropping a huge pile of crockery or cutlery by accident and the resulting crash drowns out the critical phrase/name that is being broadcast on the news report. Then take it from there. Just a suggestion. Cheers, Dane

    2. Just a thought to get your story started –

      The overflowing cup had long reached its limit. The customer didn’t notice. Hot coffee was steaming as it plummeted to the floor. Still, the waitress didn’t stop pouring. All eyes were fixed on the television above the counter. No one could believe what was happening.

    3. It didn’t matter that the volume on the television had been muted, it didn’t matter that the restaurant patrons had anticipated a fairy mundane dining experience not unlike countless ones prior, what mattered was the unavoidable and indelible image of a man falling from the window of a high rise blazing on fire, and every eye in the place was transfixed.

    4. s.he’s been drinking. it’s late. sits in restaurant drinking QUIK to restore [famous for smack heads) and some fries–can be perfect or greasy/cold–TV guy is spouting…and switches to the issue you are concerned with. oh yeah…what’s this…?
      when suddenly the thuggish cook comes out pulls the plug and says, “sorry kid. we’re closed.”
      and da kid left his cell phone at home or in the car…
      but he knows he has to NOT go home tonight!

  9. This information is helpful and spot-on. Thank you.
    I’ve struggled with the use of present and past tense in my memoir. My feelings are in the present tense as are my flashback dialogues and flashforwards. In doing my current self-editing to cut copy, I am changing some of my past tense copy to present tense. A writer friend put her published memoir in the present tense; I feel as if I’m with her on her many adventures.

  10. I agree with almost all of these, but my problem is I’ve become attached to this cold open prologue in a burning building. It’s technically the start of my characters story. Its the day they were born. But knowing how these types of openings don’t usually work out for amateurs like myself, what can I try to break away and come up with something else

    1. Well, there are always exceptions to every rule. But the other option would be to simply place it later in the story. Telling stories non-chronologically should be the default, rather than telling than chronologically.

  11. I am deeply concerned by this post and the message it sends to inspired new writers trying to find their way into the literary world.

    – I have had so many books recommended to me because the descriptions were exquisite. This one is your most damaging comment, since descriptions give the reader something to experience through their other senses. Cormac McCarthy wrote of brook trout: “They smelled of moss in your hand.” Description allows us to experience the world from our sofa and explore places we’ve never been. Description is one of the most valuable things a writer can ever employ.
    – Character description helps create character and can be some of the most memorable parts of novels (ex. Snape and his hooked nose and greasy appearance, Crowley always wore dark sunglasses indoors, Rochester’s heavy brow and craggy face). Who can forget such characters?
    – Classic novels like Jane Eyre begin in meandering ways, “wandering indeed in the leafless shrubbery,” with no initial, serious conflict in sight for quite some time.
    – Prologues are wonderful. Readers aren’t required to read them, and I myself usually read them after I’ve read the book, but they lend so much to a novel.
    – Where would Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter be without world-building and introducing the world the characters will inhabit?

    Your personal preferences do not constitute rules by which other writers must operate. And making disparaging comments about writers who choose to start their books in any one of these ways is hurtful. How many emerging writers looked at your post seeking advice but instead were discouraged and gave up what they were working on because their stories started in one of the ways you said was “boring” or “annoying.” As a young writer I would have thought I was hopeless if I had read your article at that time. Writers build up other writers; they don’t put them down.

    If you had presented this article as mere personal preference I would not have had any issues with it, but you wrote it as though you were the highest authority on novel-writing and that anyone who began a novel in one of these twenty-five ways was not as talented a writer, and so I had to speak up. Stories can start in any way and be wonderful pieces of literature. That is worth remembering.

    1. Sure, there are many books that break these rules. And if you can pull it off, more power to you! But I’ve seen a lot of bad books begin in these ways, so I’m hoping to spare some writers some missteps.

    2. Absolutely.

      “25 Terrible Ways…” is clearly click-bait and calling all 25 of these mistakes is a mistake.

      I’m glad he wrote “Tips” rather than “rules” in his opening.

      1. Maas says the same thing in his book on writing, but he is talking ’bout action best sellers. i suspect he invented “blood on the floor.”
        so i went and put one dark merlot colored drop poised on the nose to drop on the street. around pg. 3.
        and i have a prologue, epilogue, 6 back stories, asterisks for quotes, 4 women, 4 men as majors, chicago, frisco and mexico, and a coterie of bit playing/supporting cast, a microbiology experiment gone uhmmm, viral. and no cell phones because i hate them. silence is my best friend.

  12. Little late here but Charlotte’s Web begins with dialogue .”Where’s Papa going with that ax?” I don’t think “Fern saw her Papa headed out the door with an ax” followed by dialogue would have the same effect. It makes the reader curious IMO like they will wonder who are these people. Most of what you listed isn’t wrong. They’ve just been over used like the dream sequence and wake up scenes . One day the new ‘start in the middle’ technique may make this list. It doesn’t mean they can’t be effective. I’m working on something now where starting a bit in the past works better in my opinion but not a lot detail to avoid revealing the plot right away . I think it sets up the story better. I find present tense annoying, but wouldn’t pass up a good story if I was an editor. I’d hope to avoid editors like you who go by personal preferences instead of well-written stories, though I’m sure you mean well.

    1. I think there are lots of counter examples you could come up with — I believe I said that in the post. No argument there!

      But I think these are the type of openings that invite an easy misstep.

      I actually don’t have personal preferences — I would say I care only about the story. For instance, if someone gave me an excellent opening that broke any of these rules, I would tell them that it was great! The story is definitely more important than any “rule.”

      But in my experience, few writers are able to break the rules successfully.

      1. It doesn’t mean I never try to think from an editor POV. I guess if I was an editor who read the 1000th novel query starting with the main character who bumped their head and ended up in another century or the romance novel with the fell in love with stranger by the bed at first sight theme I’d want to pull my hair out too. Thing is if you ask all editors for terrible ways to start a novel their lists will be different/.

  13. “Little boxes on the hillside
    Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
    Little boxes on the hillside
    Little boxes all the same
    There’s a green one and a pink one
    And a blue one and a yellow one
    And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
    And they all look just the same”

    Try reading something outside your comfort zone. Maybe some Ken Kesey or Margaret Atwood or Tom Wolfe. They break half your “rules” in three books.

    1. I’ve read all of them. The trouble is that most authors do not have the skill set of Kesey or Atwood or Wolfe.

      If you do have the skill set, go ahead and break all of these rules — no problem! These are not hard and fast rules but helpful guidelines for beginning writers.

      As an editor, I see a lot of authors reaching for techniques far beyond their grasp, and it doesn’t end up panning out because they can’t pull it off. That’s who this article is designed for.

      You seem to be someone who would recommend an average person start weightlifting with an 800 pound squat. It takes a decade or more of training to pull it off, and even then most people won’t be able to do it. By following some guidelines, my goal is to help writers at the beginning of their career to avoid injuring their manuscript, and be able to publish a successful story.

  14. What if it starts with someone who’ll die soon, but they get resurrected? It sounds bad, I know, but i just want to know if it could work.

    1. It actually works pretty well. The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan does an excellent job of it.

      1. There are great exceptions to everything I listed on this list. Still, most beginning writers, when they break these rules, will do so badly. You have to learn the rules and learn them well before you attempt to break them.

  15. Or just write how you want about what you want. Better to start off with a cliche then not start at all. Nothing stops someone from doing something like a list of 25 things they shouldn’t do.

  16. With the exceptions of 3, 5, 6, 7, & 8, these examples of what not to do are among the worst, most short-sighted advice I’ve ever seen. Any editor who unequivocally states what you do in other areas obviously has little to no understanding of how to write or why some stories demand certain things while others do not.

    1. These are broad guidelines which are helpful to beginning writers. I would be the first to admit that there are many wonderful exceptions to these rules, and perhaps your book is one of them.

      I don’t hope that all writers will strictly follow these guidelines; I hope that when you “break” the rules you think twice about whether it’s actually necessary.

  17. Here’s my advice for people: write what you like to write and like to read. Know the rules and break them if you want. Don’t assume that some dude with a blog or some author or some random dude on the street or some know-it-all in a writing workshop is the reader you’re looking to connect with. Don’t get so bogged down in one person’s preferences that you never actually write *your* story.

    1. Yes, write your story! Break the rules (as long as you break them well).

      And … beware of common mistakes that authors make that can sabotage their relationship with readers — because that’s what I listed above.

  18. This is a great article. Not just because of the depth of advice, but because you state it as it is, bluntly with no sugar coating.

  19. #8: “If there’s a first person POV speaker, I want to hear them as soon as possible. Preferably the first sentence.”
    #10: “I don’t care who is talking if I don’t know them.”

    No wonder more people want to get self-published if this is what constitutes for instructions by agents.

    1. Hi Jon,

      1. I’m not an agent, I’m an editor.
      2. Number 8 is remarkably uncontroversial. Name one published book that breaks this rule. The person telling the story … should be telling the story. I’m not sure you understand Point of View very well if you disagree.
      3. Number 10 — I honestly don’t know how you can disagree with this. The reader has to know who is speaking. If they don’t, it’s hard to care about whatever is being said.

      1. I don’t agree with #10 either. It’s a very common writing technique to introduce dialogue as the first sentence. I, for one, started my story with:
        “Good morning, Oswin!”
        The carpenter looked up from his work. An old woman had just walked through the door. Her hair was neatly tied up into a bun and she smiled warmly as she examined the items in the shop.

        I immediately let the reader know who is talking and who the characters are. But now that I read this article, every single editor probably doesn’t want me to do this.

      2. So you can definitely break these rules, and many do. I was just reading Marilynne Robinson’s “Home,” and she starts with dialogue.

        But you just have to be careful when you do so, and make sure the payoff is worth the risk you’re taking.

  20. The tip about the dream sequence made me wince! I’ve now edited it and am taking it in a new direction. Thanks!

  21. I don’t understand the senses thing. Do you smell something every time you go somewhere? Are you licking random things? It makes no sense.

    1. Of course you can’t actually make the audience hear/smell/feel/taste/see your setting or characters. You describe them so that they can imagine it in their head. Your question doesn’t make any sense

  22. After reading this article’s ‘advice’, I suspect that this editor definitely wouldn’t have approved of the first (or any) works of Ursula K. Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Pat Conroy or even Vladimir Nabokov. The edge of arrogance is annoying given that the greats of literature would most certainly have been rejected by this individual. Despite some of the suggestions making sense, most are common knowledge and thus blog filler. I can do without yet another online opinion touting expertise that flatly disregards any work that isn’t in a genre that demands immediate shocking action, a single protagonist and terse sentences, Proust and character development be damned.

  23. Don’t you think that it’s better to add in at least some description of the main character at the start of the book? You don’t want to get half way into the book and then tell your readers what the protagonist looks like, because they’ll already have different ideas in their heads. But I see what you mean – you don’t want to bore them. Is there a middle ground?

    1. Sure, you want to put the description at the start of the book. Maybe not the first line or few lines, but certainly in the first few pages. As long as it’s sprinkled alongside other plot and action.

  24. How about star wars? if we consider that the main protagonist is Luke, he doesn’t show up until some minutes into the story. Or how about the Hunger Games, which is written in a present tense? how can we make exceptions good, like these?

  25. I came across this article because I knew the first chapter from the novel I just finished was not quite all right. Now I know exactly what’s wrong with it :)) Thanks! Great article!

  26. My first chapter starts with the action/events that set my story in motion. I start with the antagonist and write it as a recollection of events from inside his/her head, so from the 1st person POV. He/she murders a celebrity in their own home. Readers know they’re reading from the killer’s perspective but they’re not given any information as to who the killer is. They’re only told who the victim is, given an overview of the scene – the clean up and escape, plus an insight into the killer’s thoughts, feelings and a glimpse at their motive. The murder itself is not described, nor is the cause of death revealed. The chapter is only about 1200 words.
    I then introduce my protagonist at the start of Chapter 2. I write her story from the 3rd person POV throughout the book. The story of my protagonist begins when the body of the victim that was murdered in Chapter 1 is found and is reported in the news.
    Is it bad to start at the start with what actually happened and not introduce my protagonist until the following chapter??
    Also is it ok to write the antagonist from the 1st person POV and the rest of my novel from the 3rd person? 80-90% is based around the main character and a handful of secondary characters. So only a small amount is written from the antagonists perspective in the 1st person POV??

    A number of authors do this. For example Tess Gerritsen in her Rizzoli and Isles series.

  27. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
    Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis And Other Stories. Dreams, and waking up, both no nos. Apparently.

    You see hear someone giving ‘never start this way advice’, throw him or her in the bin. Start where you want to start. War and Peace…does it start with the main character? Which main character? It’s in an almost irrelevant old princess at her soiree in her place greeting an annoying Prince Vasily Kuragin. Who cares where you start. Do this but not that advice is crap.

    1. 1. The dream isn’t described in detail, only mentioned.
      2. Waking up to find you’re an insect is far more exciting than waking up to hitting an alarm clock.
      3. This is advice for beginning writers. If you’re Tolstoy, feel free to ignore (hint: you’re not Tolstoy).

  28. This was very informative. I read this and realised that I have been using these for years.
    I did not completely agree with the ‘No Prologues. ‘ rule. I agree that most inexperienced writers barely ever wright a good prologue but if done right, a prologue can do a wonderful job at establishing the plot or villain before it happens. A prologue can also be very useful for worldbuilding. A list of how to do a prologue right would be great.

  29. Eh, I’m not sure if you meant that present tense mustn’t be used or not, I do use present tense, and am not going abandon that, but I want to know why that was said, so that I can exploit the plus points i get when I’m not writing in present tense.

    1. In general, many more beginning writers use present tense than experienced writers. Sometimes when submitting it can be a strike against you.

      Present tense should be used rarely, and only after great reflection. Your go-to standard should always be writing in past tense.

  30. I’m pleased to agree with you, as I have not used any of these 25 approaches in the novels I have written, nor would I. It seems like a no-brainer to not do these things. My best guess would be that publishers and acquisition editors and agents would see any of these problems as an excuse to reject a manuscript rather quickly, not to mention readers seeing it as an excuse to toss the book off the balcony.

    Exceptions? Not really.

    That said, I have employed brief dream sequences, but never at the beginning, and I never tricked the reader where they find out after the fact that it was a dream. That, to me, is a felony offense. I also make them short and sweet and primarily in summary rather than as actual scenes.

    Prologues, I agree with not having. But I do begin on occasion with a flashforward to a high-stakes moment that will resolve later on in a full scene in the story. But never more than 300 words, and I use it to concurrently drip in a tiny bit of setting and as much character as I can. So that is not really prologue but is more of a teaser. It also gives the character an immediate problem or conflict which creates reader empathy very quickly, and it creates a tiny mystery which creates curiosity.