Friday, April 26, 2013

First Chapter No-Nos

I found this very interesting (and helpful) blog post about How Not to Start a Novel. It's basically a bunch of quotes from editors about the things they see in first chapters that make them toss the manuscript in the wastebasket immediately. Some of them are kind of surprising- not surprising that editors wouldn't like them, but surprising that some people even do them.


I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1.

People do this? Sure, George R.R. Martin can get away with killing a POV character in the first novel, but even he waited until nearly the end of the book to do it. The first chapter?  No wonder the editor feels cheated.

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.

Well, this is what I do all day, but my life is totally boring and I would never subject a reader to that.

 I don’t like an opening line that’s ‘My name is…,’ introducing the narrator to the reader so blatantly.

It worked for Herman Melville...but that was more than a century ago. Also, it's really hard to find people who like Moby Dick (I mean, I do, but I'm a bit weird. And even I think it could have used an editor with a supply of red pens).

 In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom—and then automatically finds him attractive. I’m sorry, but if I awoke to a strange man in my bedroom, I’d be reaching for a weapon—not admiring the view.

I have never read a book that started this way.  I don't care if he's freaking Michael Fassbender, I'd be sticking a shiv in his gut before I even looked at his body. Does anyone know of any books that actually begin with this situation? I'm curious. Maybe some did but the wise editors threw it out.

A rape scene in a Christian novel in the first chapter.

I can't say I've ever read a Christian novel but...goodness gracious.

 I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect. Heroines (and heroes) who are described physically as being virtually unflawed come across as unrelatable and boring.

Yep, yep. I definitely could never relate to a beautiful person. On good days I try for 'not unsightly'.

One more not mentioned in this blog post: don't start a book with your main character waking up. It's waaaaaaay too common and it's too easy to exploit as an information dump. When I wake up I don't spend time gazing at my surroundings and contemplating my life; I'm too busy trying to sneak out of bed and get to the living room to work out before my son gets up.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Problems in Fiction: Whiny Crybabies Who Need a Kick in the Pants

I started reading this fantasy novel on a friend's recommendation. In the book, a young man is raised in a household where all the men are manly and like to fight, but the main character is a sensitive sort who doesn't want to slog around in armor and deflower wenches. He just wants to read and play his lute. It's a lot like this Ray Stevens song, actually.

This is a pretty good setup for a fantasy novel. Obviously the young man will flee his overbearing family and find his way in the world, probably discovering that he has magical powers and will save the world or something. Standard, but usually interesting.

Well, the young man does flee, sort of. But before he finally blows that manly popsicle stand, he sits around a lot and thinks to himself about his shitty situation and how everyone hates him and it all sucks.

For about eighty pages.

Eighty-odd pages of this kid whining and throwing a 24/7 self-pity party. I hung on, hoping maybe he would actually do something besides act like a little bitch, and it finally seems he might be about to perform some actions of some kind, so I'm still reading. It's a near thing, though. I say he has ten pages to stop pissing me off before I give up (which sucks, because this is a trilogy and I bought all three books at once, I'd hate to have wasted the money).

Now Patricia, you say. This is realistic; there are people in this world who complain and feel sorry for themselves without ever doing anything to change their situations.

Yes, there are people like that in the world. These people are a giant pain in the ass. If I meet people like this, we rarely stay acquainted long. Most people can't stand these sorts of whiners, so you definitely don't want your main character to be one of them. Besides being annoying, they're also boring.

Even if your characters aren't necessarily whining, readers don't need (or want) to be treated to a constant internal monologue. In another fantasy series I only finished one book of, every time something happened to a character, they spent at least one paragraph reflecting on what had happened to them and how tragic/amusing/bizarre it was. It completely interrupted the flow of the story, and was the main reason I never read more of the series. 

It's not wrong for your characters to reflect on the events of the book (or even complain about it a little- key word, little) but a line or two, maybe the odd short paragraph, is more than enough. I speak from experience as a reader and as a writer; I myself tend to have my characters ramble on and over-explain their emotions and actions. When revision time comes around, I cut loads of that stuff. And my writing is better for it.

So remember: we want to know how your characters feel and what they think...just not for eighty pages at a time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Mwhahahahahaha! I bet if Rollins went up to a bunch of bratty kids at the library and told them "Shut up and read." they'd be like, "Yes sir."

 Time to get Immortal on an ALA READ poster.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Of Kindles and Buttons

I work in an independent bookstore chain (I know that sounds weird, but it can happen). Today I noticed that we are selling these tiny little buttons that say things like "Keep Calm and Read On", "I Read Banned Books" and "Kill Your TV".

Then there was one that looked like this.

The picture was so small I couldn't see any text on the screen, so it took me a while to figure out it was an e-reader.

Now, as an employee of an honest-to-God bookstore, I want people to buy printed material rather than e-books because it, you know, pays the bills and keep a bunch of people employed. As a bookstore employee, I know I should despise e-readers with a passion.

But I was a writer long before I was a bookstore employee. And as a writer...I LOVE e-readers. Hundreds of posts have been written on e-publishing and all the new opportunities it offers to authors, so I won't go into all that. I don't own an e-reader myself- no need for one, I don't travel much- but I love that people can read my work on them.

I am also not a paper snob. Oh, don't get me wrong. I love paper. When I go into a stationary shop, it's practically obscene. But I don't turn my nose up at people reading on their Kindles. They're reading, thank God. I don't care how they do it (Same with audio books. I always wondered if the famous poll that indicated 1 in 4 Americans didn't read one single book in a year, took audio books into account).

So sorry, tiny button company. I won't be buying that one.