The opening of a novel is one of the most important things you’ll write. It’s what captivates readers and makes them want to join your characters on the adventures they are about to embark on. It’s also what will help an agent decide if your story is something they’d be interested in representing. Nothing turns an agent and a reader off more than a bad beginning, so here are some common things to avoid when writing your opening.
- Your Character Waking Up
Never start your novel with your character waking up. Just don’t. It’s a cliché opening that agents and readers alike have seen done many, many times. Waking up is a mundane action, like eating breakfast or getting ready for school. Agents don’t care that your character has just emerged from sleep, unless, perhaps, they are waking up to the sound of their mother being killed in the next room. But generally speaking, there are few times this situation works, so try to avoid it at all costs.
Along with the idea of waking up …
- A Dream
Your character is going through an exciting turn of events. Maybe they are being chased by a man with a gun. Maybe they are hanging on the edge of a cliff, a second away from falling to their death – then BAM. An alarm clock rings, someone calls to them from downstairs that breakfast is ready. It was all a dream.
I can almost guarantee an agent is sending you a rejection at this point. Never start your novel with a dream. It’s a cheap gimmick and agents will feel cheated. Unless the dream is somehow essential to the story line, avoid at all costs.
- First Day of School/Work
Nothing more needs to be said about this. It’s over-done. Don’t start your novel with your character going to their first day of school or work. This seems like a natural place to begin and that’s why everyone begins there. Avoid at all costs.
Most agents hate prologues and so do many readers. Prologues are just back story. Agents want to be moving with the plot, not standing outside it while things are explained. If you know your characters and story well enough, the back story will come through on its own. It’s part of who they are. It’s in their DNA. Implicate it slowly throughout your novel and you’ll be fine.
As such …
- Back Story
Never open a novel with back story. The “information dump” is another name for it. See above reason.
- Your Character Looking Into a Mirror
This is a somewhat lazy and overdone way of telling readers what a character looks like. Be creative. (Bonus: a laundry list of what the character is wearing is another thing to avoid.)
- An Opening Line That is Exciting But Has Nothing to Do with Your Story
The pressure of having a great opening line is strong. We all want to be the next, “Call me Ishmael” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But having an opening line that has nothing to do with what is about to happen is something you must avoid at all costs. Sure, starting a novel with a dramatic first line is exciting, but make sure it actually relates to your story before you use it. And remember, the first line doesn’t always need to be brilliant in order for your novel to be good. Make sure you start at the right place and any plain first lines can be forgiven.