Friday, May 26, 2006

Tired Openings

"In the novel, [blank] awakes from a colorful and frightening dream."

If I read this opening scene one more time, I’m going to slash my wrists. Only kidding of course, but I can see by the gleam of joy in your eyes that you think this not such a bad idea. :)
Writers—do not open your novel with someone waking from a dream or a nightmare or even after enjoying a raucous roll in the hay. Why not? Because it’s been done hundreds of times by every writer under the sun, that’s why. Like most clichés, the waking up opening is so shopworn that it smells like old wet sweat socks.

Of course, other openings are just as shopworn, such as the ringing phone or moving to new home or a different town or a new home in a different town. It seems every YA or middle-grade novel written these days begins with a student whose parents have moved and Janie or Jacky or Kayla is having a difficult time adjusting to the new kids or whatever. Surely there is something else going on in young adults’ lives besides facing the trauma of fitting in at a new school. On a side note, another idea that has become totally overused is that the main character in the novel is some kind of writer, whether it’s for adults or for kids. This has been done for years, and I think the shine has definitely rubbed off of it by now.

And, of course, these openings are going to be overused because they seem like natural places to begin a novel, especially the waking up idea. But to be taken seriously, you are going to have to do better than to copy everyone else. Yes, I know, the damn DaVinci Code started with the guy waking up and it sold millions of copies. This, however, proves my point. It’s been done, so think of another way to open your story.
If you want to be taken seriously as a new writer, you cannot copy what someone else has done and that includes ideas, plot lines, characters, and all the other elements that made up someone else’s success. There is only one DaVinci Code and one Harry Potter and one Mineral Spirits (hey, like I’m not going to plug my own client here?), so copying any of its aspects only gives me and every other agent a built-in excuse to reject your work. Don’t make it so easy on us.

8 comments:

Rene said...

I open every story with "It was a dark and stormy night" and I keep getting rejected. I don't get. Just kidding.

Seriously, I've heard editors and agents don't like it when a story opens with dialogue. Is this true or is it a matter of individual taste?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Seriously, I've heard editors and agents don't like it when a story opens with dialogue. Is this true or is it a matter of individual taste?

There are so many variables here that it would be very difficult to give an all inclusive answer on this one, but I will throw a couple of things out there. First of all, it would depend on the writer's ability with dialogue and then on the editor or agent, as you said. Typically, we have found that if it's the right dialogue for that particular story, and done well, it will click with all concerned. After all, dialogue is action and active openings are what we are looking for.

DanStrohschein said...

I have seen this same request from other agents recently. There is a saying that goes something like "Ideas and plots can never again be new, only modified, updated, and re-spun." I always figured this referred to the basic story. Characters, like people in real life, should all be different. Plots, like events in real life, should also be different.

This addresses voice here too: Don't try to write like another author. Write in your own voice. Don't try to be someone else - it won't work, and your readers will be able to see right through it.

Esus said...

I know this is about book openings and that you had a previous discussion on query letters, but I'd like to combine the two discussions and get your opinion on the query letter opening. I have read everything from the query letter being just an informational piece that leads to reading the synopsis, to it should open with something other than, "Thank you for taking your valuable time to read ...," to something that should qucickly grab the attention of the agent so that he/she wants to read more that the author has written. What does your team like to see?

Anne Jordan said...

I was just checking out your blog and wanted to compliment you on your sense of humor. Your information is helpful, and to the point.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You crack me up! (Great info here, though.)

Rick Walker said...

You seem to scorn comparisons to existing successful works. Are you saying we should never invoke their patterns, even as a loose reference or ballpark? I like to do a quick-paint summary by saying my book is "Well Known Book X meets Well Known Book Y"

Thanks a lot :)

Rick Walker said...

You seem to scorn comparisons to existing successful works. Are you saying we should never invoke their patterns, even as a loose reference or ballpark? I like to do a quick-paint summary by saying my book is "Well Known Book X meets Well Known Book Y"

Thanks a lot :)