How (Not) to Write a Fantastic Opening

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass on Flickr
Getting the opening right in your book is possibly one of the most important parts of writing your masterpiece. After all, without a gripping, life-changing opening, many readers won’t get to the real meat of your story.

So how do you ensure that you’ve written an epically amazing opening? Fear not, my lovely readers, for the formula to a brilliant opening is here.

How to Write the Most Incredible Opening in the History of Incredible Openings*:
  1. Dialogue in the void. Before a single line of description, before any characters are introduced, there must be super stupendously thrilling (or hysterical, or tragic, or snarky, or thought-provoking, or all of the above) dialogue. Forget dialogue tags and action beats—give us the good stuff and skip straight to voices before we know who anyone is, or who is speaking, or even where they are. 

  2. Start with an entirely irrelevant prologue. This is where your void dialogue should be—in the epic prologue with elves, and magic spells, and dragons, and that hovercraft bombing everything with super cinematic explosions, and an epically amazing ninja fight, and don’t forget the car chase with really expensive, flashy cars. Oh, you’re writing a YA Contemporary? Use the awesomesmash prologue anyway—it’ll only add to your book’s insane level of genius. 

  3. Moral of the story narration. This should be at the end of the irrelevant prologue. After all, no one is going to want to read your book if they don’t know what valuable life-lessons they’re going to learn. Honestly. 

  4. Beautiful description. If you don’t have pages upon pages of uninterrupted beautiful literary-styled description, you fail by default.    

  5. Introduce no less than fifteen characters…then kill them all off. You know, a la The Iliad. 

  6. Delve into every character’s detailed backstory. Before you kill them off, or as a eulogy afterwards, tell us every detail about their lives—from their favorite color to their very first memory, and that time their cat Colonel McMeowsers brought them that dead pigeon. This is the only way to make them feel real. 

  7. But don’t mention your protagonist until page ten. Or preferably later. You have a lot of ground to cover before you even begin to tell us who the story is about. 

  8. When you do get to your protagonist, start at the beginning of their average day. I mean, how he brushes his teeth (clockwise or counterclockwise circles? Up and down? SIDE TO SIDE?), and what kind of brush he uses to brush his hair, and what his favorite cereal is is totally fascinating stuff.

  9. Tell everything (and don’t show anything). Jimmy is angry when he hits his alarm clock. He doesn’t know why he’s angry. Maybe it’s because the bristles on his tooth brush are too hard, or maybe it’s because his mother left three days after his second birthday and that ridiculous chihuahua bit his pinky finger when he was four. He stares into the mirror while brushing in counterclockwise circles and stares into his gorgeous green eyes. Coincidentally, green happens to be his favorite color. He’s very attractive, but he doesn’t really think so. Some girls say his wavy dark locks framing his face make him look handsome, but they just remind him of his mother.

    Jimmy loves Cap’n Crunch cereal. 

  10. Author foreshadowing. Because who doesn’t love the disembodied voice telling us what’s going to happen? For example:

    But what Jimmy didn’t know was that this would be the best day of his life, and also the day he died. All because of that Cap’n Crunch. 
So there you have it! Now go forth and awesomize your opening.

*This is another sarcastic post! I beg you not to take these points seriously and please don’t use any of these suggestions. Please.

What so-called “tips” would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you have trouble writing openings? Here's a fun post from writer @Ava_Jae on ten ways (not) to open your book. (Click to tweet)
Getting your MS's opening right is very important, so writer @Ava_Jae shares 10 ways (not) to write a great opening. (Click to tweet


Lauren said...

Haha this is great! I think your first point (or the opposite of it...) is true most of the time. In my opinion when writing sequels you can used dialogue as an opening because your readers should be familiar with your characters already. This works especially if you left the last book at a cliffhanger. Because an action scene that starts with dialogue make the reader wonder where the are and what is going on. THeir curiosity gets the better of them.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Lauren! I think there are nearly always exceptions to the rule, and I've seen dialogue starts that worked, but I've also seen many that don't. Like most elements of writing, it depends on how it's handled and the particular situation. :)

Robin Red said...

"Jimmy loves Cap’n Crunch cereal. " I just choked on my tea. I participated in a First Page Swap the other week, and after some serious feedback from two authors, I've finally touched up my first page so that it's close to perfection. My first draft pretty much violated rules 4 and 10, I'm ashamed to say, but now… Happy Holidays, Ms. Jae :)

Ava Jae said...

Heh heh, glad you enjoyed that, Robin! Though I apologize for the wasted tea. :)

The mistakes I listed are actually relatively common, especially in first drafts, so no need to feel ashamed. What's good is that you recognize it and now you've made your first page shiny. So great job!

And Happy Holidays to you, too!

Jen Donohue said...

Hey, Anna Karenina doesn't appear 'til page 30 of the novel named for her ;)

Ava Jae said...

Oh? Ha ha I wouldn't know, I haven't read Anna Karenina. :)

Luke Moy said...

It's funny because George R.R Martin does most of these rules in his Ice and Fire book series, yet somehow it works!

Ava Jae said...

What follows is an unpopular opinion, but that may explain why I couldn't really get into Game of Thrones...hmm.

Luke Moy said...

Aw. That sucks. I love the series myself. I find it immersive not so much because of the language, but just the sheer scope of the world he creates!

Ava Jae said...

I've heard so many good things about the series and I tried to read it, but for one reason or another it didn't pull me in. Maybe in the future I'll try again and it'll be different. Who knows?

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...