Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t use one of these openings or that there aren’t good books that start this way.
I am saying that you should think once, twice, and five thousand times about using these. They are both extremely common among unpublished authors and extremely difficult to pull off effectively.
A character waking up
Sure, there’s probably a good reason the character is getting woken up. Maybe their house is on fire/they’re late for school/they just realized their insides are being sucked out by a sea monster. But not only is waking up overdone, what exactly is gained by showing a character wake up? Why not just cut to the insides-getting-sucked-out chase?
A character looking in a mirror
I know what you’re thinking. Namely: “How in the heck am I going to show the reader what this character looks like when it’s a 1st person narrative? Hmm… Mirror!” Don’t do it. There is another way.
Extended dialogue with insufficient grounding
It’s difficult for readers to ease into a new world and get their bearings. It’s even more difficult to feel grounded when you’re watching two characters talk and you’re not exactly sure who they are.
Action with insufficient grounding
You’ve probably heard that you need to grab the reader right off the bat. But it’s really difficult to care about what is happening in an action sequence before the reader knows where they are and who they care about. Even if you do begin with action make sure there’s enough establishing detail for the reader to sort out what’s really happening.
Character does X and oh by the way they’re dead
By all means, tip off your reader that they’re dealing with an undead protagonist. But playing it for shock value probably isn’t going to work. Think about it – by the time the reader picks up your book in the paranormal section of the bookstore with a title called BEING DEAD SUCKS and a cover to match, are they really going to be surprised when your protagonist does something pithy and then you reveal they’re dead?
What do you think? What are some of your least favorite openings?
(Check out literary agent Kristin Nelson’s list as well.)
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Art: Tiger and Snake by Eugéne Delacroix