If you already follow me on Twitter you may have seen my post about too many thrillers and crime stories starting off with a murder and yes, I see it in most of my thriller submissions. While many people like an opening murder and some TV shows rely on it, it doesn’t match my personal tastes and I want to discuss why. Now what exactly do I mean by the murder opening? I mean so many books follow this formula: Someone dies violently to grab reader attention. Protagonist gets introduced. Protagonist finds out about the murder and investigates.
First off, the murder beginning has become overdone to the point that it no longer stands out in my slush. Remember, agents are reading way more first chapters than your average Joe and we take notice of trends and common openers. We get hundreds to thousands of queries a year. For every book with this opener that gets published, I see many more go unpublished. Openers that I haven’t already seen a hundred times are what stand out to me in the slush. Sure authors have used that opening to great success, but once everyone starts doing the same thing it no longer stands out and some readers tire of it. I’m one of those readers. I’m sure there are others who can’t get enough of it. I think the main reason I tire of this opening is because I don’t often see it done well in the slush. Great writing can change my feelings toward this opening.
Secondly, I don’t know the character being murdered so their death means nothing to me. The author usually then spends the rest of the book trying to make readers care but it’s too late. Often the murder scene is so vague I have no idea who anyone is or why the murder matters and it just leaves me feeling confused. About 90% of the time the murders are included as prologues as well. In fact these days I see prologues in thrillers more than in fantasy, which used to be the popular genre for prologues. If you are starting with a murder because you don’t think your opening chapters grab attention well enough on their own then you should probably revise them. Don’t use the shocking prologue as a crutch.
There are a few other reasons why these stories aren’t to my personal tastes. Too often the person investigating lacks stakes outside of it being their job to solve the case, which is why I say cop procedurals and CIA/FBI detective stories aren’t for me. I already saw how the murder happened and too often the investigation doesn’t hold my attention enough to make me care about the case getting solved. Many times I see stories where the cop characters themselves seemed bored by the crime because it’s just another day in the office to them. Again I see this formula so often that it feels like the only difference between some stories is different character names and modes of murder. A few times I’ve considered removing thrillers from my wishlist because most are murder mysteries and I’m just not into your typical murder mysteries enough to want those stories. If you disagree with anything I’ve said above, that shows you how subjective this industry can be and why I blog about my tastes.
What if your story has this opener? The good news is this whole post comes down to my personal tastes. Other agents may love these type of murder mysteries. Personal tastes make readers love different genres or tropes and the above type of stories just aren’t my cup of tea.
Now more about my tastes. I often say typical “who did it” stories aren’t for me for the above reasons. I like stories that are about more than simply figuring out who committed the murder. I like stories that explore the ramifications on the survivors or show the fear of the villain striking again with high stakes in solving the mystery. I enjoy psychological thrillers. In mystery I love when it crosses over with horror or historical elements. I like the tension of survival and a race against the clock. I cover some of this on my wishlist, but below are some thrillers and mysteries I enjoyed to give you better insight to my tastes.