The results from yesterday’s Can I Get a Ruling? are in, and 77% of you are incontinent.
Also, you may have surmised from my own stated philosophy of “if it works it works” as well as the inclusion of a Third Way, that I too am in the “Depends” category. People have raised lots of very good examples of opening dialogue that worked, and those examples speak for themselves (get it?).
But here’s why I brought this up. You may not have thought about opening a novel dialogue (or maybe you have), but it’s something I notice right away when I’m starting to read a partial. Because when you start with dialogue, you can’t hide.
That’s because beginning a novel with dialogue is hard. It’s very difficult to do it effectively, because the reader doesn’t have context, they don’t yet know why they should care, and a lot of people are turned off by gratuitous in media res.
Some of my fastest decisions when reading a partial have come from reading opening dialogue. If it doesn’t work, it’s pretty clear right off the bat.
In my ongoing collection of sports/publishing metaphors better known as EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING I LEARNED FROM SPORTS, co-authored with Dan, let me use the following example.
If you lined up a bunch of people and told them to do something easy, like shoot a free throw, you might not be able to tell which are the good players and which are the great players. Pretty much everyone can shoot a free throw. Make them do something difficult, like dunk or shoot fadeaway jump shots, and the differences will be quickly apparent.
Same goes for difficult authorial tricks like starting with dialogue and/or breaking other “rules.” If you can pull it off, fantastic, if not, an agent will be able to tell very quickly.