Wednesday, March 21, 2007


A Corner of my Office

Below is a list of the sort of things I see wrong in openings.

This list may not be comprehensive as this is off the top of my head, but I prefer to work this way, allowing an interaction with Boot Campers (or Blog-Readers) to develop my thoughts.

Characteristics of Bad Openings

Bland, uninteresting, vague or generic titles.

Forced, deliberately dramatic starts (Big Bang)

"Hanging" (unattributed) dialogue openings, often with innocuous dialogue.

Warm-up paragraphs. Weather, place, waking up, "reflections".

Generic language.

Generic voice, lack of personality or spark.

Voices which suggest lack of story-power or weight. Eg "Blokey writing"

Generic story signs, stock situations, stock characters, stock dialogue.

Deliberate vagueness of incident, place, gender, time.

Over-writing, trying to look like a writer. "Cuteness" to cover weakness.

Lack of a sense of direction. Failure to steer the reader's sensibilities.

Unspecificity of mood, theme, intent.

Errors in grammar. Typos.

Poor speed control.

That's a long list of things to do wrong, ways to go wrong. I see such errors almost every day. Not only do these errors alone drag a story down, but they also drag down the reader's expectations. A bad start means the reader (or judge, or editor) is far less likely to forgive small transgressions. The reader is also less likely to focus on the coming paragraphs.

You get one chance to make a first impression. In writing it's rare to overcome a bad one.

So what would be GOOD?

Characteristics of Good Openings

Exciting, interesting, unusual titles which tilt the reader into the story

Stories which do not feel forced. Instead they exude confidence.

Stories which give the reader a sense of where-who-what before dialogue occurs.

Immediacy, conciseness, a sense of "no-waste" everything matters.

Immediate pleasure in the language, and/or a sense of quality.

An interesting voice that feels individual, likeable

A voice suggesting things will matter, will resonant, make us care deeply.

The story immediately seems fresh and not 'me-too'. Novel characters, speech.

A sense that the author is not hiding things. A good feeling of how things will be in the story.

A sense of writerly confidence, even if that means plain words.

A strong sense of control. The writing shapes the reader's mode of acceptance.

A clear tendency to feel a mood. Often a statement or a hint of the theme.

Perfect grammar, diction, No typos.

Pacing is absolutely right

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