Friday, November 7, 2014

First Chapter Faux Pas

I’ve often heard people say, “Everything’s been done before.” As a writer, I’d like to believe that’s just not true. Although, there are a few openers that tend to get overplayed and agents are getting bored.

You’re opening is the most important part of your novel. It’s more than just an opportunity to impress the masses with your wit, although that’s fun too, it’s your chance to hook the reader. The first reader you need to grip is an agent and they’ve read probably every scenario possible.

Below is a list I’ve complied from interviews on the web and excerpts from the, 2015 Guide to Literary Agents.

In short, here are the things that agents are sick of seeing in the first chapter of our scripts.

In depth character descriptions- Don’t forget, the reason we read is because we love to use our imagination. If you allow the reader to conjure up their own version of the character, they will grow an attachment and connect to your story better.

Overtly busy character doing things nonrelated to the plot- such as washing dishes, tying shoes, staring at things, pondering, a.k.a the false action. The idea is to start your story with the defining moment that changes your characters lives and their course of action.

The super cliché- Dream sequences either having or waking, weather reference, the mysterious phone call, the psycho lurking in the shadows, the funeral, we have five minutes to disarm this bomb, the MC dies and story cuts to x amount of months earlier, the hangover, and the dead hooker in bed. I think you pretty much get the picture here. Basically, don't start your novel the way every movie has ever started.

The unbelievable characters- The perfect specimen of untouchable, with windswept hair and eyes the color of some form of nature. They never F-up thus readers can't relate. Let the reader know your characters are human too (unless of course they're not humans). Every being has flaws, show that as well and build sympathy.

The backstory that could very well be a stand-alone short story- I'm sure your character's past is very interesting, or they wouldn't be an awesome MC, but the point of each chapter (especially the first chapter) is to carry the plot onward. A backstory is just as it sounds, a trip back.

The dreaded Info-Dump- If you have two or more consecutive sentences full of heavy description about one person/place/object, you're info dumping. Sneak that stuff in along the way, who wants to buy the cow if your giving away milk left and right.

The whiny MC- If you were around a person who spent all day sighing, tsking, huffing, and puffing, you might want to slap them. Don’t make the reader want to slap your characters. Do a search in your word document for the word sigh, you might be surprised.

Are you guilty of cliché writing? I was, was being the key word. Take a good look at your first chapter and dive into the depths of your imagination, so you don't end up in the rejection pile.

Good luck, and happy writing!