Recently on Twitter I posted a link to a blog series by literary agent Kristin Nelson talking about nine book openings to avoid. You can find that series here and I suggest giving it a read, especially if you struggle to find the right spot to start your book. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Kristin said in the series as an editor and reader.
Finding the right place to start a story can be hard. But with that in mind you should really keep an eye out for cliché starts, like the ones mentioned in Kristin’s article, along with other problematic openings (some of which I’ve talked about in past posts as well). One cliché start pet peeve of mine is starting with a character dreaming and waking up. I rarely see it done well. It’s usually used to show something traumatic that happened in the character’s past or to foreshadow something big coming. I’ve been known to talk authors I’ve edited into revising this type of beginning out, especially when it adds no twist to a cliché story beginning.
And confession, now and then I try to find some good indie books to read. But when I send a sample to my Kindle and a story starts out with the character dreaming and waking up, something I’ve seen too much of in indie books, I usually don’t buy the book. I want to read a unique story that sticks with me once I finish it. Not a story that sticks to clichés and is full of predictable elements. To me the waking start screams boring and unoriginal.
Can you use a cliché beginning and make it work? Sure, but only if you put a unique twist on it that matches your story, which can be hard to do. The fact is you want your story to stand out to readers and that means you want your story to be unique, not start with something that might make them roll their eyes and put the book down. And when it comes to agents the fact of the matter is you really need to stand out in the slush pile to get their attention. Starting a book with something cliché with no twist on it isn’t how you get an agent’s attention. I’ve read interviews with agents who say when they read those sorts of openings, they quit reading immediately.
Not sure if your story beginning works? Have a friend or critique partner read it and give you feedback. Seeing how other readers feel about your story’s beginning is a good way to catch cliché starts or other openings that don’t work and need revised. Below I included query rejection examples from the ten queries hashtag on Twitter that focus on some story opener issues.