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Old 04-22-2013, 06:48 PM View Post #1 (Link) How not to open a story
Dabs (Offline)
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Many of the regulars probably know this. Many newbies do not.

I'll be paraphrasing the original post since I don't love it's execution.

Original post

Don't start your story with the weather. Yes, it is possible to work weather into the opening scene, but don't bore the reader with the temperature, the sun, the clouds, the wind, the rain, the snow, the trees, ...

Don't start your story with a character's description. The main character may be Lionel Rittenhouse and have been born in Minburn, Iowa in 1983, and have bright red hair, hung like a monkey, arms of steel, calves of iron, and whatever. It is best if these details be weaved into the main body of the story, but please, don't begin with a paragraph (or several) of descriptions.

Don't address the reader. You'll never believe what happened on June 31. You are correct. I won't believe because I just quit reading.

Don't start your story with the main character waking up. Many many stories have begun with the main character opening their eyes to a strange sound or bad dream. Or ending a chapter with the character going to sleep. (This does not affect the plot and puts no real movement to the story or the progression of the conflict.)

Don't start your story with a cliché. Once upon a time, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. By then, the reader is far far away, too.

Don't start your story with helper words. Please, please, avoid adverbs, and most of the adjectives. Writing should be from vibrant verbs and nouns, not the 'telly' adverbs and cumbersome adjectives. For dialogue tags, stay with 'said' and 'asked' and a couple others. Don't get flowery.

Don't use exclamation points! Especially a bunch of them!!!!!!!!! The editors I know say that one, or at most two, should be in a single chapter.

Grammar and spelling should be perfect. If you don't care, why should the reader.

There are exceptions to the above, of course, there are always exceptions to writing.

Want an example. Check this out, it says it succinctly.

jakonrath.blogspot.com/2008/01/bad-stories.html
  
						Last edited by Dabs; 04-22-2013 at 06:59 PM.
					
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Old 04-23-2013, 05:21 AM View Post #2 (Link)
Georgy (Offline)
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[QUOTE=Dabs;169254]Many of the regulars probably know this. Many newbies do not.


Dabs opened his eyes, which turned out to be grey, lively, sparkling and all in all beautiful!!!!!
Above his head the sun was shining, white clouds were passing slowly by on the blue sky, the little birds were singing wonderfull songs, dragonflies were buzzing, bees were fussing, an ant was trying to carry a fallen tree and his breath raked through his teeth with a hiss.
Dabs was laying at ease in bed and enjoyed the sight and sound of this charming fuss. Dabs was twenty yours old guy with long blond hair, with strong arms and legs. His face was open and courageous. I should hark back to reader, that Dabs was about seven feet hight, and you might be rest assured he was not a guy you could safely quarrel with!!!!!!!
And suddenly Dabs heard something. It was like a sound of helicopter or flying dragon.
Dabs kept lying in the bed, the features of his face were calm as if they were made of steel.
Finally, he saw the intruder of his Edem. A greasy fly appeared above him and her presence was insulting.
Dabs took a huge gun out off his pillow , took aim and made a shot.
The fly fell on the bed and writhed in agony.
Dabs made a control shot, and in the end the fly died. Dabs removed the carcass on the floor using his muscled leg. He placed his gun under the pillow, he turned his body on another side and he went on sleeping. He was going to have a nice dream.
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						Last edited by Georgy; 04-23-2013 at 12:20 PM.
					
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Old 04-23-2013, 08:50 AM View Post #3 (Link)
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Don't start your story with the weather. Yes, it is possible to work weather into the opening scene, but don't bore the reader with the temperature, the sun, the clouds, the wind, the rain, the snow, the trees, ...
"It was a dark and stormy night."

Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Don't address the reader. You'll never believe what happened on June 31. You are correct. I won't believe because I just quit reading.
"If I could tell you this in a single sitting, then you might believe all of it, even the strangest part."

The Limits of Enchantments, Graham Joyce

Just a couple. Anyone who truly worries about how to not open their book will never open their book. My advice - write the damn thing, with the door firmly shut.
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Old 04-23-2013, 02:40 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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Originally Posted by Spiders View Post
"It was a dark and stormy night."

Paul Clifford, Edward Bulwer-Lytton



"If I could tell you this in a single sitting, then you might believe all of it, even the strangest part."

The Limits of Enchantments, Graham Joyce

Just a couple. Anyone who truly worries about how to not open their book will never open their book. My advice - write the damn thing, with the door firmly shut.
"It was a dark and stormy night" is considered one of the worst openings in the history of literature. You also paraphrased it. The full introduction is: "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Also note that it was written by a very, very wealthy man in the 1840's, so publishing standards were quite different back then, along with writing styles.

Also, take note of the line I bolded, underlined, and italicized. You know, to grab your attention.

Any opening is promising in the hands of a good author, but the point is that they make those openings more than about the weather, or addressing the reader, or waking up, and so on.

Worrying about an opening is not a bad thing. An opening sets the story and brings your reader into the plot, setting, themes, characters, writing style, perspective, and probably a few more things that I can't remember. It doesn't have to be perfect on your first draft, but it's important to know how to avoid sounding melodramatic or like you're writing in an earlier century.

This list, granted, should be paired with a "What to do" section, but it's not. That said, Infinity_Man already has a writing guide addressing this subject. I don't need to make another.
  
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Old 04-23-2013, 02:44 PM View Post #5 (Link)
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[QUOTE=Georgy;169281]
Originally Posted by Dabs View Post
Many of the regulars probably know this. Many newbies do not.


Dabs opened his eyes, which turned out to be grey, lively, sparkling and all in all beautiful!!!!!
Above his head the sun was shining, white clouds were passing slowly by on the blue sky, the little birds were singing wonderfull songs, dragonflies were buzzing, bees were fussing, an ant was trying to carry a fallen tree and his breath raked through his teeth with a hiss.
Dabs was laying at ease in bed and enjoyed the sight and sound of this charming fuss. Dabs was twenty yours old guy with long blond hair, with strong arms and legs. His face was open and courageous. I should hark back to reader, that Dabs was about seven feet hight, and you might be rest assured he was not a guy you could safely quarrel with!!!!!!!
And suddenly Dabs heard something. It was like a sound of helicopter or flying dragon.
Dabs kept lying in the bed, the features of his face were calm as if they were made of steel.
Finally, he saw the intruder of his Edem. A greasy fly appeared above him and her presence was insulting.
Dabs took a huge gun out off his pillow , took aim and made a shot.
The fly fell on the bed and writhed in agony.
Dabs made a control shot, and in the end the fly died. Dabs removed the carcass on the floor using his muscled leg. He placed his gun under the pillow, he turned his body on another side and he went on sleeping. He was going to have a nice dream.
How did you know?
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Old 04-24-2013, 08:13 AM View Post #6 (Link)
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"It was a dark and stormy night" is considered one of the worst openings in the history of literature.
Indeed.

My point is not that there are exceptions. My point is that when the entire of the literary world is filled with those exceptions, they are not exceptions.

Hence there are no rules about openings. There are no 'do not's. There are things you should do, things that can help, and things that will probably hinder the story that you should avoid. But you should never be absolute about not doing them. It limits your creativity.
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Old 04-24-2013, 01:22 PM View Post #7 (Link)
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InfinityMan's silence on this occasion really makes me wonder.
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"And the internet has everything on it. It's a blessing and a curse."
InfinityMan
"The point of poetic prose, in my opinion, is to illuminate a truth, make us see something that's there, but hidden."
Dabs
"I believe we stand together to address the real issues facing this country, not allow them to divide us by race or where we come from. Let's create an America that works for all of us, not the handful on top." Senator B.Sanders
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Old 04-24-2013, 05:04 PM View Post #8 (Link)
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Originally Posted by Georgy View Post
InfinityMan's silence on this occasion really makes me wonder.
Just for you, Georgy, I'll respond

I'll note that the original source comes from a forum you have to be a member of to read, so I can't actually see what the original source is. However, I've seen multitudes of agents and editors say these exact things, and will link to the idol panel story again.

I'll keep it brief, because I don't want to get tangled up in this: The books Spiders is using as an example, and the literary world that we'll accept has all of these examples, are cases where the author managed to pull it off. Paul Clifford was published in the 19th century, and so is not relevant to modern writing discussion, though.

I'm guessing this advice is directed at new, unpublished writers. If you try and sell your book with an opening like this, most editors or agents won't take you seriously. The example of Graham Joyce's comes from a book he published after a score of others; he's got a name, a devoted following, and receives less scorn from his editors--he pretty much just has to hand them a finished manuscript and they'll publish it (I'm assuming, based on what I know about other prolific writers).

I said this in my most recent guide but the point of advice is not to be a hard and fast rule--if we say not to open a story like this, of course you can get away with doing it. It's just that most aspiring writers are terrible when they try and pull this off. Sure, Joyce's ain't bad there, but the "reader addressing the audience" is way too easy to fumble. It's easier to say "don't do it at all" than it is to say "try it, but here's all the things to avoid."
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Old 04-25-2013, 12:39 AM View Post #9 (Link)
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Originally Posted by Spiders View Post
Indeed.

My point is not that there are exceptions. My point is that when the entire of the literary world is filled with those exceptions, they are not exceptions.

Hence there are no rules about openings. There are no 'do not's. There are things you should do, things that can help, and things that will probably hinder the story that you should avoid. But you should never be absolute about not doing them. It limits your creativity.
Yes, which is exactly why I highlighted, bolded, and underlined the line that said every rule has an exception.
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Old 04-25-2013, 08:47 AM View Post #10 (Link)
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I never really wanted to use Paul Clifford as a serious example. Rather, most of the books I'm reading at the moment break at least one of the above rules in the opening. And most of them were published in the last few years.

If necessary, I will give a long list of examples. It will be a very long list.

Yes, which is exactly why I highlighted, bolded, and underlined the line that said every rule has an exception.
You clearly didn't read my post.

I said this in my most recent guide but the point of advice is not to be a hard and fast rule--if we say not to open a story like this, of course you can get away with doing it. It's just that most aspiring writers are terrible when they try and pull this off.
I feel it's better for an aspiring writer to not worry about how their story opens until everything else in the book is sorted. A crappy opening is great if it makes the writer write the rest of the story - that's the most important thing.

This comes from my own experience. By worrying about how my book opens, I spent around 6 months trying to open it correctly, with no success. Now I don't give a damn about the opening, and I'm actually writing the thing.

If these are 'rules', they are self-evident, and the writer would be better off learning them through their own craft (as I did) than taking them as the two stone tablets that they appear to be and crippling their creativity.

What you're talking about, Infinity Man, is trying to sell your work. It's a different ball game to simply being a writer. In the words of Jules Renard, 'Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.'

The thread should be titled 'How not to open a story you want to publish'. And even then, I still have my list of 'exceptions' in waiting.

All in all, a writer should focus on trying to do something more, rather than something less. The former is creativity. The latter is editing.
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