What NOT to Write in Your Story Opening

Writers, you need to wow the reader from page one, especially if you are trying to get an agent or editor in traditional publishing. So here are a few tips of what NOT to do in your opening.
Never start your story with:

1. The "to be" verb variations: what a waste of space. If you can avoid the "he was"/"there are" constructions, please do. There are myriad verbs out there--strong, potent, visceral verbs that are just waiting to be adopted and molded by a loving author!

2. Falling asleep or waking up: overdone and boring, and a real snoozer! Very few writers can pull off a character sleeping without putting the reader into a coma. Your story probably has a better place to start than sleep.

3. Dreaming, which is not the same as waking up/sleeping: not because it's boring, because dreams can be vivid and exciting, but because it's trite and we don't know the character well enough yet to give a rat about their psychological dramas. Try starting in their real world first, then contrast that by moving to the dreamscape world and contrast the two. Then the reader will feel the tension!

4. The weather or storms or skies: this is what folks talk about when they got nothing else to say. Frankly, it's a lazy way to start your story. EVEN IF your story is about weather, it's always better to open with a character we can start to care about.

5. A line of dialogue: we don't know anyone in your story yet, so we have no reason to care about what they say. Most times we don't even know who's talking, so it's speech by an "empty head" and agents/editors dislike that.

6. An inciting incident: we just aren't ready to jump off the cliff with your character yet. If you jump into high action too soon, we haven't built up momentum/tension/fear/anticipation with you yet. Let us be with the characters a few minutes and start to care about them before you throw us to the wolves.

7. The word "it" or "something" or any variations of the two: again, wasted space, wasted words. We need to be wowed, not bored with your opening language. And poor choices in words convey to agents, editors, and even the general reader that you are not a seasoned writer.

8. Adverbs to boost your boring verb: if you have to add the adverb, you probably chose a weak verb to begin with, and editors/agents will think you are a freshman writer. Master writers go for strong verbs.

Use this list to challenge yourself to write stronger, more sensory and verb-oriented openings. Good luck!

The Editor Devil

3 Tips to Boost Your Story's Opening Lines

In my First 50 Pages class today, I shared 3 tips that students could use to boost the opening lines of their novels:

1. Leverage your verbs! Language matters in your opener, and if you choose strong verbs, your other language choices will follow naturally from there to paint both your story and your character with more creative flair.

For example: If you have a character with a spiky attitude, pick spiky verbs. If they are yoga-mama, then pick cooling verbs. OR create contrast by doing the reverse (this always works to create interest).

2. Hit 2-3 senses in your first paragraph. You need to land the reader physically in your story, either in time/space or in a character's body. And the senses do that naturally.

This approach will help you avoid leaning on internal dialogue/thoughts to carry the story. They will show, not tell, the story on your behalf. Plus, readers will believe you, because they are sensing the story as they read so the scene will feel real to them. Even random dancing penguins on the snowy tundra would work better than no sensory detail at all.

3. Make your first lines of dialogue wow us. The first "spoken" lines (by any character) should be engaging. The tone and style of the words used should resonate with us and make us salivate for the characters' next words. Do not use throwaway lines, like "how are you" and "I'm good" or I will have to hunt you down with my red pen!

Dialogue in storytelling should feel like nothing you would expect to hear. And a clever cheat is to have characters speak in the reverse of what their energy implies. For example: what if you let that yoga-mama above speak like the Spiky chick, and vice versa? That's engaging!

My First 50 Pages Class Returns!

My First 50 Pages class is finally back on the calendar!

I've taught a lot of conferences, and yet I still see students making the same obvious mistakes in their opening pages. Most of these mistakes are avoidable. Unfortunately, agents/editors/judges assume from such mistakes that the author is a newbie or untalented, when in fact the author's story as a whole might be amazing.
At the Las Vegas Writers Conference I was on a panel to critique first pages. We listened to the story being read and raised our hands when we would "stop reading the manuscript" if it had been submitted to us. Well, I raised my hand the most, because it's my job as a book doctor to know what those five agents, and the next five agents, and the next 20 editors want and hate. That's part of my job: to screen and filter out problems that get a manuscript rejected.
The other part of my job is to help you bring out the magic that gets your manuscript read from start to finish! And that's always more fun--to focus on the strong points of a story and the gifts of the storyteller.
Writers work so hard to finish a manuscript, and then they work even harder to get the attention of an editor or agent or even a contest. But the opportunity gets blown because the writer is working in the dark as to what gets their work rejected.
Since I'm exposed to those conversations with agents/editors/contest judges all the time, I've got some insights in this arena. That's why I designed this five-week workshop to polish your sample pages to avoid common pitfalls that get a manuscript thrown into the rejection pile.
Not only will I review your first page, but I'll team you up with other authors (you can opt out of this if you want) so you get feedback along the way. We all need readers to help us see our blind-spots, so the more we support each other in our editing process, the better the results I find.
One of my goals in this workshop is to teach you how to think like an editor. That way you'll write and edit stronger manuscripts in the future.
You'll learn how to make characters, dialogue, and hooks read like a bestseller. You'll also learn tips/tricks to make the rest of your manuscript sparkle, including:
1) First page "Do's and Don'ts"
2) Power hooks that engage
3) World building techniques that bring the story to life
4) Character development seeds to plant early
5) Dialogue that engages and sells itself
6) Critical story elements you must establish by page 50
7) Key "turning points" to keep readers turning the page
8) Scene-writing techniques that improve pacing/tension
9) Genre requirements to meet
10) Layering story/character arcs
Click here for more information and the PayPal registration link: http://editordevil.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_2.html
If you are a former student, feel free to email me directly for a discount rate:
ChristineFairchild AT yahoo DOT com
Cheers to you all!
Your Editor Devil

Using Dialogue to Build Character Development

Here is an encore post from my character development book:

Characterization is the painting of a character in a story through narrative, dialogue and action. Done well, the character will come to life on the page as if they are a real person.

Done poorly, and the author has succeeded in creating cardboard. And the reader will never forget it.

As Noah Lukeman puts it in his book The Plot Thickens, "...character is the basis for all further talk of journey, conflict, suspense—and is the cornerstone of plot..."

Characterization is achieved by the author through the careful delivery of external (descriptions of how the character looks, walks, drinks their coffee) and internal information (how they act in any given situation, who they interact with, the decisions they make, the decisions they don’t make). Note that these do not break down the same as internal and external dialogue.

Nouns and verbs chosen for dialogue directly affect the intensity of tone and the reader's perception of the character. These words can reveal whether the character is dominant or submissive, passionate or dispassionate.

Also, the choppiness of dialogue sentences and whether the character speaks complete sentences may tell the character’s attitude or even education level. Consider how terse dialogue is spoken by a character who is combative, how sensitive phrases might be used by a caretaking character. Doing the reverse can be even more interesting. Consider how jokes from a bank robber make his/her character more interesting.

Remember: In fiction, what they say IS who they are. Even and especially when the character is lying.