Friday, February 1, 2008

More on openings

I've been following agent Nathan Bransford's first page contest this week. The first thing I have to say is, I'm glad I'm not judging all 600+ entries!! I freely admit that I am not up to reading slush. There were a lot of entries where I couldn't get past the first few sentences. The good ones--well, they really leaped out. A few observations:

1. The MG/YA entries were, on the whole, better written. (Uh--not that I'm biased or anything :)
2. The best entries started with the actual story.

(And now for the negatives...)

3. Profanity in narrative does NOT equal "voice." More like a weak substitute for voice.
4. Starting with a violent act with no chance to get to know the characters means that aside from general shock effect, there's no reason for the reader to care.
5. Starting with a character waking up is sure to put your reader back to sleep.
6. A lot of entries (especially those in first person) started by telling the reader the ENTIRE BACKSTORY of a character(s). But, there was no sign of an actual story beginning anywhere. Begin at the beginning, folks.
7. Perhaps a fresher use of phrases would be good, too. A LOT of entries had the actual phrase, "It all started when/with..."
8. Watch the gerund phrases. This is a pet peeve of mine, but if you start a sentence with a gerund phrase you are saying that that action is happening simultaneously with another one. Sometimes this is possible (Wishing she'd never come, Chiara wrapped her arms around her legs and tried to ignore the fact that she was 30,000 feet in the air, hovering over the Arctic Ocean.) But more often than not, it isn't. (Pulling the door shut across the room, Georgie lay down on the bed. --Unless Georgie is related to Elastigirl, he just can't do this.)
9. Starting with a character who is angry, bitter, and determined to MAKE THEM PAY!, without any other redeeming characteristics, is a character who many readers will prefer not to hang around. Characters don't have to be perfect, but readers need a reason to like them and hang around for the rest of the book.


Natalie said...

This is great advice, Rose. I saw Nathan's post that reiterates what you're saying here. He says (and I agree) that many writers think the only good opener is a shocking one, and it tends to come off as trying too hard.

I don't envy him...600+ entries. Whoa!

Rose Green said...

I know--at least he's not critting them all. Picking out a winner and some runner-ups shouldn't be too hard (the cream rises, and all that). But, he's still got to read them all. Whoa is right!

Angela said...

Well said, Rose!

Rose Green said...

Thanks, Angela! Funny, I wouldn't have thought of some of these things if I hadn't had a sample of 500 to look at. You can really see why agents say the things they do.