As it was told to me, so I pass it on to you. Okay… I admit that sounds a little more epic than it actually is but that doesn’t make this topic any less important.
Openers are hard. You want to snag the reader’s attention and keep them reading. The first chapter, the first page, the first paragraph, even the first sentence can be the deciding factor between an impulse buy or a dust collector (as it were).
I admit that I’ve fallen into each of these traps. However, I’ve made strides to eliminate them since learning they might be holding back my writing and/or my writing career. An agent told me to look at the top sellers and how they start their books. Very rarely do they start with anything listed below. Those who do have usually been writing so long that they could put out their grocery list and it would be an instant bestseller.
Here are the top three cliches to avoid when starting your story.
#1 – Mirror, mirror on the wall…
Raise your hand if you look in the mirror and take note of every single feature of your face in glorious detail — the shape and color of your eyes, the size/shape of your nose, the shape of your lips, the shape of chin, etc. I know I don’t do that.
I look at my reflection and immediately notice if I have a crumb stuck to my face or if my hair is out of place. That’s it. It’s my face. I know what it looks like. I don’t have to describe it to myself.
Think of your character looking in the mirror and describing their looks to the reader the same you would if you did the same. It’s silly and one of the things that marks a writer as amateur.
#2 – Rise and… ohhh what’s that?
The first sentence in your story involves your character waking up. Congratulations. You’ve just written the most boring and overused opener in the history of writing. To continue this trend, your next book should start with it dark and raining.
Nine times out of ten you can kill the first paragraph involving your character waking up and still have a decent opener.
There are ways to use this cliche without it being cliche. Finding those ways, or just avoiding it, will keep your story from losing the reader in the first sentence.
#3 – “What do you mean don’t use this?”
While you do want to pique your reader’s interest in the first paragraph (sometimes in the first sentence) of your story, dialog isn’t the way to do it.
This particular practice is usually a single sentence said by a person the reader hasn’t met yet and meant to make the reader curious enough about the conversation to keep reading. It might work. Or it might turn them off because they are sick of seeing that cliche.
Again, nine times out of ten, you can delete that first sentence of dialog and just start the story.